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October 23, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

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This 8-win basketball team never quit, earns unlikely spot at state

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Steve Marcus

Shawney Gainey, left, covers a teammate during practice at Desert Pines High School Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.

Desert Pines Girls Practice for State Basketball Tournament

Coach Lonnie Cambell passes a ball to Heaven Heacock during practice at Desert Pines High School Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Launch slideshow »
Prep Sports Now

Which teams leave Reno with gold?

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer touch on each of the Southern Nevada teams heading to Reno for the state tournament — Bishop Gorman, Canyon Springs, Clark and Desert Pines. Gorman and Clark are the rightful favorites in their respective divisions, but could an upset be in store?

They won just six regular season games, took fourth in their league and were outscored by an average of 16 points per game.

The Desert Pines High girls basketball team had the type of season you’d expect with a first-year coach and a starting lineup of three sophomores and a freshman. They were learning on the job and taking comfort in improved play, not the result on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

Then, those results changed at the perfect time — the playoffs.

Desert Pines pieced together its second winning streak of the season last week, winning two games by a combined five points in the initial two rounds of the Division I-A Southern Regional tournament to earn a berth in this week’s Division I-A state tournament in Reno. It’s one of the biggest surprises in my nearly two decades of covering Las Vegas high schools. Simply unbelievable.

“It’s what dreams are made of,” said Desert Pines coach Lonnie Cambell, an electrician by day and a former middle-school coach. “We didn’t expect to be here, but we are sure going to enjoy it.”

It reminds us again of the true meaning of high school sports. It’s about playing the games, not winning them.

Desert Pines will leave school for the week Thursday morning — a true reward for any high schooler — for the bus ride to Reno, sleep in a hotel, eat nice meals and play in a college arena at UNR’s Lawlor Events Center.

You might consider them out of place because of their 8-21 record and a roster full of players whose inexperience frequently results in some on-court miscues. But just like regular participants in the tournament, such as the Centennial girls team in the Division I event, the Desert Pines girls are basking in the accomplishment of qualifying.

“It’s a joy, an absolute blessing to be part of this,” sophomore forward Adrianne Jackson said. “It’s the fire inside of us. Nobody believed in us, but we believed in ourselves. That’s all it took.”

Sophomore guard Chrystian Myles expected to be in Reno for the tournament — not as a participant but as a fan. Her brother, Coby, is one of the standouts on Desert Pines’ defending state champion boys team, and the Myles family rarely misses a game.

Never in her wildest imagination did she picture celebrating one of her team’s victories with her brother. Remember, they won just six games this season before the playoffs. But when the final buzzer sounded against Western in a 51-48 victory to clinch a spot at state, players from the boys' team also raced onto the floor with the girls to join in the party. Everyone was chanting the school’s rallying cry of “DP, You Know.”

Don’t expect Desert Pines to be an easy out when it faces Northern champion Lowry Higg of Winnemucca on Friday in the state semifinals. In its first playoff game, Desert Pines trailed defending state champion Faith Lutheran 28-12 after the first quarter, and the season appeared to be coming to a quick end.

Then, in a turnaround that’s downright unexplainable, Desert Pines played its best basketball of the season to win by two points.

“We played as a team and we played to the end,” Cambell said.

Talk about a life lesson. Instead of throwing in the towel when faced with adversity — whether it was against Faith Lutheran or earlier in the season when the Jaguars struggled to find wins — they didn’t quit. And for that, they will receive the ultimate reward.

Reaching state provided another reward for Cambell. They likely won’t have the resources to play in a spring or summer league, meaning another week of basketball will help in his quest to further develop the players. With such a young roster, each day of practice is a day to get better.

At the beginning of the season, they scored just 13 and 14 points in losing games in lopsided fashion. Now, because of the improvements made at practice, they’ll get the experience of a lifetime.

During Monday’s practice, there was little work on game strategy and more focus on teaching the fundamentals.

Cambell always believed if his team could improve at the fundamentals, they would eventually have a chance to play for state. Not this year, though.

“This will be a new experience for all of us,” Cambell said. “I definitely expect them to be nervous. But I hope they remember what it’s like for the next time.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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