The Carey Panthers didn't relinquish their Northside Conference boys' basketball tournament championship easily Monday. The favored Richfield Tigers found that playing Carey was like pulling teeth.
But Richfield's superstar Victor Vasquez (17 points) came up big with four free throws in the final 20 seconds lifting the highly-regarded Tigers to a 48-45 win at Shoshone and an automatic berth in the 16-team State 1A tourney March 2 at Caldwell.
"Their big player stepped up," said Carey coach Dick Simpson. "But we played well tonight. Richfield never got a run on us. We tried to limit their dribble penetration and I felt they had to work for everything they got."
It was close all the way, Richfield's biggest lead of six points coming early. The Tigers (20-2) showed versatility by maintaining leads without Vasquez, who sat with personal fouls for nine minutes in the middle quarters and scored two field goals after the half.
But Vasquez's free throws sealed the verdict for a Richfield squad that was held to 17 points below its average offensive output. An all-around player, Vasquez added 3 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists. Still, Richfield shot only 31%, 8-for-23 from 3-ball territory.
Simpson's #2-seeded Panthers (15-8) settled for Tuesday night's second-place game against #3-ranked Camas County (15-5), with the winner also earning a state berth. "These kids don't want to lose to Camas but it will be a tough game," said Simpson.
If Carey beat Camas Tuesday, the Panthers will have earned their 10th state basketball tourney berth in 13 years.
Monday night, Carey junior Tyler Cook (12.6 ppg) was the main Panther offense with a game-high 19 points including six 3-pointers. And sophomore Brad Hunt added 9 points and 10 rebounds as Carey out-rebounded Richfield 29-24.
Defense dominated the match-up between the top two seeds in the seven-team meet. Carey's Cody Baird and Devin Simpson played suffocating defense on Vasquez, holding the lightning-quick 5-9 senior guard to 17 points, seven points under his average.
"Cody played excellent defense on Victor," said Simpson, whose team has played great defense in the last six games, allowing only 43.2 ppg.
Meanwhile, Carey junior Devin Simpson, not ordinarily an offensive threat, kept the Panthers in the game with 6 points in the fourth quarter on aggressive attacks. "Devin gave us a spark in the fourth," the coach said.
Carey started the game without its leading scorer, junior Tadd Green (15.4 ppg), who had been sick. Green ended with 5 points, 5 boards and 5 steals. Baird finished with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals, while Allen Peck had 2 points, 3 boards, 3 assists.
Richfield's supporting cast for coach Garr Ward included Tate Exon (12 points, 3 steals), Steven Ward (8 points, 6 boards, 4 steals) and Tommy Scott (3 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists). All are seniors. Harlie Amy added 4 points as did Shayne Buckner.
The Tigers avenged their 19-point loss to Carey in last year's Northside Conference championship contest.
Prior to Monday's game, Carey stretched its win streak to three games with preliminary 72-34 and 47-34 tourney wins over #7-seeded Bliss (0-18) and #3-seeded Camas County.
Thursday, two-time defending Northside king Carey put 10 players in the scoring column against Bliss topped by Cook's 17 points including five 3-pointers and Hunt's 16 points along with 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists. Carey shot 53% including 6-for-12 from behind the arc.
Other scorers were Baird 8 points plus 7 steals, Bryan Hill 6 points, Luke Harmon 6, Simpson 5 and 5 assists, Peck 5 points, Green 4 points and 7 boards, James Carlson 3 points and Ben Neilson 2.
Carey relied on strong defense to subdue Camas County for the third time this season 47-34 Friday. Hunt, on a six-game roll averaging 11.0 ppg, led the way with 14 points and Green added 12. Peck had 9, Cook 7, Simpson 3 and Harmon 2. For the Mushers, Mark Wilson tallied 13 points.