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State-title showdown named Nevada Preps game of the year

Updated June 20, 2024 - 9:03 am

Bishop Gorman’s girls basketball team lost a regular-season game to eight-time defending state champion Centennial on Jan. 20.

Gaels coach Sheryl Krmpotich wrote a date on a whiteboard in the team’s locker room afterward: Feb. 23, the day of the Class 5A state title game. She added the word “revenge” underneath.

Things played out how Bishop Gorman hoped. The Gaels met the Bulldogs again one month later with the state title on the line. Bishop Gorman trailed in the fourth quarter, but rallied to win 57-53 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Gaels’ perseverance going up against Centennial’s streak of dominance cemented their second matchup as the Nevada Preps Game of the Year.

“First year back, I didn’t expect it. I really didn’t,” said Krmpotich, who returned to Bishop Gorman after taking a seven-year break from high school coaching. “But as time went on, I’m like, ‘We could really win state.’ Just the belief that they had in myself, the staff and each other was truly a blessing.”

The win was extra special for Krmpotich.

She was in her first season of her second stint at Bishop Gorman, where she won four state titles from 1998 to 2010. It was also the 501st victory of her career.

“Everybody just bought it,” forward Neeyah Webster said. “Everybody believed that we could actually win and we could achieve something like this.”

“No panic”

Krmpotich, despite the Gaels’ 68-57 loss to the Bulldogs in the Big City Showdown in January, was confident her team could win if it got another shot.

“After the Centennial loss, there was a gear that changed,” Krmpotich said. “That’s when they kind of refocused and became more of a unit together.”

It didn’t look like it would be enough in the state title game.

Centennial led 22-13 midway through the second quarter and 28-22 at halftime.

“There’s still time on the clock,” guard Addysen Carr said. “That’s what I told myself and we heard it on the sidelines. We had to stay in it.”

Bishop Gorman clawed its way back into the game behind point guard Aaliah Spaight, who finished with 23 points and nine rebounds.

“There was no panic,” Krmpotich said. “We just had to step up and make shots and play good defense. We did that. We played excellent press defense, they rebounded and they stepped up and hit major shots. That’s how you win games.”

Carr drilled a 3-pointer to tie the score at 53 with less than two minutes left. Spaight then put the Gaels ahead 55-53 with 1:32 remaining. She also made a pair of free throws late to increase Bishop Gorman’s lead to four.

“(Spaight) was so confident in what she does and it allowed all of us to be confident because she’s our point guard,” forward Aliitasi Fakatoumafi said. “We really depend on her. She knows how to carry that, especially in this game since it was a big one. She did a great job leading.”

‘Cinderella season’

Spaight dribbled out the game’s final seconds in the corner and then threw the ball up in the air.

She joined the Gaels’ celebration at midcourt, which soon shifted over to the stands to include parents and friends.

“We kept our heads down,” Fakatoumafi said. “I’m super proud of all of us.”

Krmpotich fell to the ground afterwards overwhelmed with emotion. She said she made sure to acknowledge her parents in the stands after she got up.

“It was a Cinderella season. It was one of those that is etched in your memory forever,” Krmpotich said. “They worked their butts off every day to create the championship. We never doubted that and they believed in each other as family for a reason.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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