Playing in the tough Northside Conference, the Carey School girls' basketball team makes it to the State 1A tournament about as often as this country changes presidents.
So, it was fitting that on Super Tuesday 2008, coach Lane Durtschi's Carey Panthers (12-8) earned the school's first state tournament berth in eight years with a super 53-40 Northside 1A Sub-District tournament win over the Dietrich Blue Devils, at Shoshone's gym.
Three Panthers scored in double figures and nearly four accomplished that feat as Carey's pressing defense frustrated Dietrich all game. Carey trailed very early 7-2 but outscored Dietrich 51-33 the rest of the way for the huge victory.
Carey, capturing second place in the Northside tourney and an automatic state berth with the win, shot extremely well in the first half and built a 31-21 lead. The Panthers out-rebounded Dietrich 39-19, led by juniors Kayla Bailey (15 rebounds) and Amy Ellsworth (8).
Durtschi said, "These girls have worked so hard—they've improved a ton. We set a goal this summer to get to state and the girls did everything they could to get there. We played as a team and gained confidence all the way through the year."
The only Panther senior, Jennifer Cenarrusa, was very excited after the win. She said, "This is extra awesome. Going to state is a dream I've had for four years. We just trust each other. There is no selfish person on our team—everybody looks out for each other."
Carey won seven of its final eight games after a rough 3-4 start that included early losses to defending State 1A champion Richfield and 2A teams Valley of Hazelton and Challis. Those early losses might have benefited the team, Durtschi said.
"Tough games like that make you hungry and wanting to play better. After Christmas we played very well. The girls have spent the time needed to improve their shooting. They've also matured to a point where they want to take and make free throws," he said.
Carey's second-half surge began with a painful 32-point loss at Dietrich Jan. 3. The Panthers bounced back to beat perennial Northside contender Dietrich 54-52 in Carey Jan. 15, with four Panthers scoring in double figures. And they brought the same team attitude into Tuesday's important game.
Bailey, Carey's 5-11 junior post, had 7 rebounds and 7 points in the first quarter alone when Carey went ahead 16-11. Junior Shelby Hansen and Cenarrusa added 5 points apiece in the second as Carey kept taking and making its shots. And Dietrich committed 15 turnovers in the first half.
Deeper on its bench, Carey could afford the personal fouls it was piling up with its ferocious trapping press. Hansen (4.5 ppg) just couldn't miss from the field, scoring a season-high 13 points with 4 steals. It was 41-30 Carey after three.
The Blue Devils, led by their 5-11 junior star Jesse Dill (14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) and senior Shasta Towne (10 points, 6 boards), made a final run in the fourth quarter but could only whittle the lead to eight. Cenarrusa scored 7 of her 12 points in the fourth to seal it.
Carey contributors included Ellsworth (10 points, 2 steals), Cenarrusa (4 rebounds, 2 steals), Jessica Parke (7 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists), Emilee Butcher (1 point, 5 boards) and Kelsey Green (1 point, 3 rebounds).
Wednesday in a state seeding game at Murtaugh, Raft River of Malta (16-7) built a 40-25 halftime lead and beat Carey 72-55. Top Carey scorer Parke (9.6 ppg) scored 16 points, Hansen had 10 and junior Chelsey Hunt made two 3-pointers.
It means Carey has drawn the First District (northern Idaho) champion, possibly Kootenai or 2007 consolation champion Wallace, for its first-round game in the 16-team State 1A tournament Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6:15 p.m. at Nampa High School.
Carey will be making its fourth trip to the state tournament. Carey's 1999-00 team (18-7), led by Kami Peck, Kristy Barton and Jenny Royal, also defeated Dietrich to make state. The 1995-96 Panthers (19-7) were the state consolation champs and the 1991-92 squad (16-6) also made the big trip.
Meanwhile, Dietrich (17-9) survived Wednesday's loser-out game at Murtaugh with a 60-58 win over Castleford and qualified for state as the fifth-place team out of the Fourth District. The Blue Devils will play the Boise-area champ Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. at Columbia High.