February 27, 2014 - 10:00 pm
Teams with losing records normally don’t make the state tournament, let alone the playoffs.
But at Desert Pines, the girls basketball team has done the unthinkable in recent weeks.
After starting the season 1-13, the Jaguars finished 5-7 in league play to secure the Sunrise Region’s final playoff berth. In their first-round game, they upset defending state champion Faith Lutheran, then knocked off No. 3-seeded Western to clinch a spot in the Division I-A state tournament in Reno.
“They’ve peaked at the right time,” Desert Pines coach Lonnie Cambell said. “They’re playing their best ball right now. They believe and know that they can play with anybody.”
Desert Pines (8-21) faces Lowry (19-9) in the state semifinals at 2:20 p.m. today at the Lawlor Events Center. The winner will meet Boulder City (23-4) or Spring Creek (18-12), who play at 11 a.m., in Saturday’s championship game.
The Jaguars struggled to find team chemistry early in the season. They had only two seniors on the roster and returned just two varsity players, sophomores Chrystian Myles and Adrianne Jackson.
Despite their rough start, Cambell said his team kept a positive attitude.
“Our spirits weren’t low because we’re such a young team,” he said. “I kept pushing them. I never let them think about the losses because we had to play other games.
“We don’t worry about what we can’t change. I just made our practices harder, and they just started believing in themselves. Right now, they’re starting to mature as ballplayers.”
Myles, a 5-foot-3-inch guard, averages 14.0 points and is the team’s undisputed leader. She said she always knew what the Jaguars were capable of.
“It’s about believing that you can win,” Myles said. “When you think about how far we’ve come — getting blown out by 30 and 40 points — and now we’re beating the defending state champions. It’s really a blessing.”
Desert Pines, which has been outscored by an average of 15.4 points per game, started the region playoffs having never scored 50 points. But that changed when the Jaguars used back-to-back 50-point games to upset Faith Lutheran and Western by a combined five points.
Myles still recalls the crowd’s reaction after Desert Pines shocked the Crusaders 56-54 on Feb. 18.
“Their crowd was still quiet, and we were all just jumping around,” she said. “They were just looking at us like, ‘Who are these girls? I did not expect (that).’”
That look has put a huge chip on the Jaguars’ shoulders.
“It makes me more pumped to prove someone wrong,” Jackson said. “No one expected us to be here, but we’ve already pulled the upset twice. You don’t have to win every game to be the best.”
Desert Pines’ only other state tournament appearance came in 2004. On the 10th anniversary, these Jaguars hope to do something that team could not: win a state championship.
“Why can’t we?” Myles asked. “Why take six steps back when we’re already two steps in front?”