Determined Spring Creek chops down Virgin Valley

Virgin Valley’s superior size in the paint was one of the big reasons it reeled off 20 wins this season, including seven over Class 4A teams in Las Vegas.

Spring Creek was hardly intimidated, however, and cut the Bulldogs down to size in the Class 3A girls state final Saturday at Orleans Arena.

Using smothering defense and superior guard play, the Spartans controlled the game from the start and defeated Virgin Valley 51-37 to win their fourth state basketball title since 2006.

Virgin Valley (20-6) fell short in its bid to bring a championship to Mesquite for the first time since 1993, when the Bulldogs won the 2A crown.

Stacey Kerr scored 12 points and Zu Grinsell 11 to lead Spring Creek (20-10). Emily Hicks supplied eight points, 13 rebounds and six steals while battling inside against Virgin Valley’s 6-foot-4-inch Rachel Morris and 6-2 Jenelle Weythman.

“Size doesn’t really matter. It’s the effort you put into it,” Hicks said. “We have played against bigs before. Yes, that was an aspect we looked at. But one of our key things always is constant pressure and hustling all the way.”

From the opening tip, Spring Creek’s pressure defense and hustle were the difference. The Spartans forced the Bulldogs into 24 turnovers in the first half while holding them to 19 field-goal attempts, and Spring Creek grabbed a 27-18 halftime lead.

“They have some good perimeter players, and that was something we need to be able to match up with. We just didn’t do a very good job,” Virgin Valley coach Chimane Creer said. “It was something that we worked on, hoping we could handle it. We could not quite get it going.”

The Bulldogs finished with 33 turnovers, which helped Spring Creek offset shooting 28 percent from the field.

Morris had 13 points and 19 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs, and Weythman added 10 points.

Virgin Valley stayed in striking distance in the second half. It pulled within 36-32 with an 8-1 run midway through the third quarter, capped by two baskets by Morris in the paint.

But the Spartans, as they had all game, quickly answered. Madi Estes and Grinsell hit 3-pointers to cap a 9-3 spurt for Spring Creek to end the period.

“Once they got ahead, we battled back and got within four or six, but we just could not finish it off,” Creer said. “They would hit a big 3 or get a big steal each time. That happens.”

Spring Creek played keep-away for much of the fourth quarter, attempting to limit Virgin Valley’s chances of a comeback. The Bulldogs were held to two points in the final quarter.

“I am proud of our team,” Creer said. “The kids came from, I guess what you would call mediocre, to here. We had a good year.”

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