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For the first time in the storied history of Mineral County High School, the Serpent boys and girls basketball teams both captured the state championship in the same season.
At the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday evening, the Mineral County boys capped off a historic season with a 62-38 win over Spring Mountain in the title game, just a couple hours after the Serpent girls knocked off Eureka 40-35 in the 1A girls state final. It was the second championship in three years for the boys and the first since 2003 for the girls.
“It feels absolutely amazing,” said girls coach Amanda Jones after the celebration. “I’ve been telling these girls since the beginning that I believe in them and they could do it, but they had to believe in themselves. They shocked the world today.”
Jones is no stranger to state titles, she won three herself as a player at MCHS from 1997-2000. She said she’s tried to instill the same love and passion they had during their championship runs when she took over the program three years ago.
She may have been one of the few that saw this one coming, however. Even after finishing 11-1 in conference play this season, the Serpents entered the regional tournament as the No. 2 seed and came up just short of winning it.
That gave them the same seed for the state tournament where they matched up with a McDermitt team Friday that had more size and strength up and down its roster than Mineral County. The Serpents were up for the challenge and stormed back in the fourth quarter to win 57-51 to reach Saturday’s championship game.
After Eureka stunned Coleville in the other side of the bracket, it set up Saturday night’s matchup where the Serpents led from start to finish. The girls led 20-15 at half, but had a big third quarter that put them ahead by 14 heading into the fourth.
That was when Jones rolled the dice in Vegas and came up a winner.
Mineral County’s leading scorer and conference player of the year Perla Gutierrez picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter and never left the game until the five minute mark in the fourth when she fouled out with a game-high 21 points.
“I never considered taking her out, we were going to ride her until the end,” Jones said. “She’s a very smart player so I knew I could leave her in there and keep going.”
The Serpents led 37-23 at that point and were able to hold off the Vandals just enough to secure the win and the state championship trophy.
“It’s a big accomplishment, we went through a lot this season and went out and proved everyone wrong and won it all,” said Gutierrez, who had 30 points in Friday’s semifinal.
Boys win second title in three years
The celebration of the girls championship was still going on as the boys tipped off the final game for any team in the tournament a little after 8 p.m. They matched up against Spring Mountain after dismantling Wells the night before at the S.L.A.M. Academy, 66-23.
The Serpents had defeated the Eagles twice already, including the regional final the week before, but this was a different game at the beginning. After a scoreless start that saw Mineral County go down 8-0 in the first few minutes, the Serpents scored the next seven and ended up taking a 24-23 lead into the locker room.
Mineral County had success pounding the ball inside and played solid defense in the third quarter to open up a 48-32 lead after a Seth Bozzi shot that beat the buzzer. Longtime Serpent coach Pete Summerbell was able to bring in his reserves to play out the final minutes as the Serpents cruised to a state title victory.
“It’s fantastic. It means just as much as the first one to me and I’m very proud of these kids,” Summerbell said. “I told them they were just a step slow at halftime and we had to pick it up, and they recovered and rose to the challenge like they always do.”
After finishing with an overall record of 31-1 with a conference title, regional title and state title, the question in the minds of a lot of Hawthorne fans was if this team was the best in school history.
“Yes it is,” Summerbell said. “Definitely the best team in my 15 years of coaching, but going back it’s pretty tough to top this group.”
Serpent senior Robert McFalls, who starred on the last two championship boys teams, gave credit to past teams but also his own.
“I know there were a lot of great players and teams before us, but I think we’re right up there with them,” said McFalls. “It just feels good going out on top as a senior in my last game.”
McFalls finished with a double-double in the final, 13 points, 11 rebounds, and Seth Bozzi did the same with 15 points and 10 boards. Damien Montoya had 13 points and Treven Wachsmuth hit big shot after big shot to tally 13 as well.
“It feels great, we’ve been working really hard for this all year,” Wachsmuth said after the victory.
Fans show their support
It was a big night for the town of Hawthorne and the fans showed up in Vegas to support their teams while getting to see some history at the same time. A jubilant crowd followed the players to the hallway near the entrance of the 7,500 seat arena where the celebration continued for both teams after workers cleared fans and players out. That didn’t stop a lot of hugs, tears and pictures as parents, supporters and school officials buzzed about what they witnessed on the second day of March in Las Vegas.
“The town of Hawthorne always comes together for these athletes, and this will bring them together even more,” said MCHS alum Jason Cardenas. “It’s an amazing accomplishment for both the boys and the girls to win it in the same year for the first time.”
The town did indeed come together for these teams as they greeted them with a heroes welcome Sunday afternoon when they arrived back in town.
Fans lined the streets as the school’s classic white bus made its way to the school gym where there was a pep rally celebrating boys and girls basketball state titles together for the first time in school history.
Photos from the boys and girls state tournament games are now available for purchase online at rememberthisfamily.com