Only one thing will make up for the way Elko’s season ended last year, but the Indians took a first step in their recovery process Tuesday night.
Suffocating defense led the way to No. 1 Elko’s 52-42 Division I-A victory over host and No. 2-ranked Lowry in the teams’ first meeting since the Buckaroos pulled the upset in last year’s state championship game.
“That one is going to stick with all of us for a long time. That loss hurt,” Elko’s Nathan Klekas said. “But we wanted to be positive coming into this one, and it’s always nice to take them out on their home floor, in their house. But it’s only one of possibly four times we could play them. … It’s just another game but it’s still a good win for us.”
The teams will play again Jan. 29 in Elko and could face off in both the region and state tournaments.
But if Elko defends in those games as it did Tuesday, the result isn’t likely to change.
The Indians (11-2, 1-0 Ruby Mountain) held Lowry to two points through the first 4 minutes, 55 seconds, to six points in the first quarter and scoreless for the first 5:09 of the second period.
“I don’t know how long we went without even getting a shot off,” Lowry coach Chad Peters said. “We didn’t play as aggressive as we’ve been playing and as I’d like to see us play. “
The timid and unproductive first half dulled a bit a near-capacity crowd and dug the Buckaroos (11-4, 0-1) a 12-point deficit at halftime despite the accomplishment of holding Elko nine points below its average pace.
“I was a little worried about coming here but we started real strong,” Elko coach Chris Klekas said. “We stress defense and the kids work hard and believe in that.”
Nathan Klekas led Elko with 11 points, eight of which came in the second half to help stave off Lowry’s comeback attempt.
The Buckaroos twice cut the deficit to nine in the third quarter and were as close as eight, 38-30, with 40 seconds left in the period but never were within single-digits in the fourth.
Brian Pearson added nine points and six blocks for Elko, which starts three sophomores and a pair of juniors.
“It’s not like we can say we’re young because they’re younger,” Peters said.
Josh Watterson scored 14 points and Calvin Conners had nine for Lowry, which lost both regular-season meetings a year ago but won the one that mattered most.
“It’s the same way we did things last year. But I don’t like it,” Peters said. “We’re trying to turn the page. We don’t want to hang on to last year. Yeah, we know just because we lost this one it doesn’t mean our season is over. But we have to turn the page and create a new chapter.”