Jackson’s 3 gives Wave first title in 47 years
LAS VEGAS – The plan was to get the ball into the hands of their best shooter.
After watching its rival tie the game with no time left in regulation and with a chance to win the game in overtime, Chelle Dalager drew up the play, calling for junior guard Elijah Jackson to be the one to take the final shot of the game – and the season.
Senior Johnny Cooley inbounded the pass from the sideline to Jackson, who, with four seconds left, dribbled around the perimeter in front of the Fallon bench, pulled up a couple feet behind the arc and unleashed the game-winner to give the Greenwave a 57-54 victory over Elko for the 3A state championship at the Orleans Arena.
“I’ve been shooting that shot in practice a lot. As soon as I released that shot, I knew I had a really high chance,” said Jackson, who looking up to the rafters, sprinted to the other side of the court and was mobbed by his teammates and coaches. “Even though I’ve got one year left, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The win capped off an incredible run for a team that finished second in league for the second-straight season behind Elko, which had made its eighth-straight trip to state and left, once again, empty handed. It also gave the school its first state boys basketball title since 1971 and after watching the Lady Wave win its third-straight crown, it also marked the first time in 95 years that both teams won titles in the same season. And it marked the first time in state history that a woman-coached varsity boys basketball team won a state title.
“There is nothing more exciting than coaching your own kids and being able to take them and play at the very highest level you can play at,” said Dalager, who has two sons, senior Hayden and sophomore Avery Strasdin on the team. “As a coach, it’s been a goal to play for a state championship. To be with your kids and have the girls win, that’s history. That is amazing. I love our community. I love Fallon. I bleed green. I love the Greenwave. I’m super lucky to be in this position.”
Call this season Cardiac Kids: The Sequel.
A decade removed from leading the Lady Wave to a state-record six overtimes, Dalager’s boys needed the extra period to come out on top three times in eight days.
Playing in its second-straight overtime game and third in the last four, each time had a different hero step up. In the semifinal regional win over Lowry last week, Cooley’s putback on Jackson’s missed 3 sent the game into overtime. On Friday, junior Thomas Steele hit a jumper at the free-throw line in regulation and Jackson’s putback helped Fallon upset top-ranked Mojave.
And on the last day of the season, Jackson, the star quarterback of the football state championship team, delivered one for the ages.
“It’s pretty great, honestly. We just never gave up in the clutch moment,” said Cooley, one of the state’s best 3-pointer shooters. “We just keep working, keep fighting and play good defense. It was just fate.”
Elko had a chance to win the game before Jackson’s thriller when it went to a four-corner offense and was going to hold for the final shot but the Indians committed a double-dribble with five seconds left. Cooley inbounded to Jackson and the rest, well, is history.
Jackson, the league’s MVP, finished with a team-high 22 points and Rooks, who stood under the basket as Jackson drained the final shot, added 15. Rooks stepped in late after Steele fouled out for the second-straight game.
“When Thomas fouled out, I knew I had to stick to know how I play and not do too much,” Rooks said. “My shots weren’t dropping early on so I focused on the square and finishing.”
With Elko trailing by three (49-46) after Hayden Strasdin hit two free throws, the Indians were called for an offensive foul with 15 seconds remaining. With 14.1 on the clock, Elko fouled McFalls – who missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Elko advanced the ball across mid-court, took a timeout with 5.8 seconds remaining and worked the ball off a screen and found Sean Klekas on the left wing for a three at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, the second time between these two schools this season.
“The first thing I said in overtime was great, we’re going into overtime and we’re going to win this thing,” Dalager said. “They were confident. They knew. It’s hard to beat a team four times. I give Elko credit. They’re a great team. They’ve got some great shooters.”
Jackson opened the overtime period by going 1-for-2 at the free-throw line, and freshman Dawson Dumas banked in a shot from the right wing after a pump fake for the Indians. Fallon took a 52-51 lead on a bucket by Rooks from a dish by Cooley, but Rowley hammered a three on a dish from Alex Klekas — Rooks tying the game with a minute remaining.
Alex Klekas led the Indians with a game-high 23 points, Sean Klekas scoring in double digits with 12 points, including three 3-pointers, and Rowley approaching double figures and scoring all nine of his points after the break. Michael Klekas closed with four points – Elko’s offense capped by two points apiece from Simpkins, Jones and Dumas.
How was Fallon able to solve Elko in the fourth and most meaningful meeting?
Dalager changed McFalls and Cooley’s defensive matchups with McFalls guarding Alex Klekas and Cooley responsible for Sean Klekas. It minimized the risk of foul trouble for Elijah, who ended playing with four fouls late in the game.
“We matched up a little differently,” Dalager said. “We just played a better matchup. The kids just played really hard and really well.”
Both teams battled back and forth in the opening quarter with Fallon jumping to early leads of 9-6 and 13-11. But Alex Klekas’ running jumper on the left side tied the game at 13 going into the second quarter.
Jackson went to work in the second quarter, completing a three-point lead in the early minutes and then gashed through the Indians’ defense, drawing a foul, Rowley’s third for another three-point play at the 5:45 mark of the second quarter. Jackson took control, pushing the ball in transition and pump-faking his defender into the air for a bank shot and a 21-15 lead.
“I changed my approach to the rim because I knew they were going to start trying to make me get a charge and fouling me out,” Jackson said. “I knew I had to drive and dish and it ended up working out for us.”
Sean Klekas stemmed the 8-0 run with a pull-up jumper, but Jackson strung up a triple from the left wing for a 24-17 advantage – giving him 13 points in the half. The Indians tightened up their defense and forced consecutive turnovers, leading to a bucket on the right block for freshman Michael Klekas on a post-feed pass from Sean Klekas.
Another takeaway resulted in a Fallon foul, Sean Klekas making 1-for-2 at the stripe and pulling Elko to within four at 24-20. Elko drew Steele’s third foul with 2:20 on the clock, but the Indians were unable to take advantage and committed an offensive foul – Fallon giving the ball back with a turnover – the Wave making a steal on the Indians’ next possession.
At the break, Fallon led 24-20 and extended it to six (36-30) after Jackson went up high for an offensive board and followed his shot home for a 36-30 lead.
Elko Daily’s Anthony Mori contributed to this story.