It was a wild one, like a southern Idaho spring storm that sweeps across the plain, leaving every conceivable type of weather behind.
But there were rock-solid reasons why underdog Carey School boys' varsity basketball team stunned the unbeaten 1A top-ranked Richfield Tigers 59-51 Tuesday night in the championship game of the Northside 1A Sub-District tournament in a jam-packed Shoshone High gym.
Senior leaders D.J. Simpson (17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) and Tyler Parke (12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) were reasons #1 and #2, and the Panther supporting cast did everything it could do.
Defense was probably the biggest reason why Carey (20-3) won its fourth Northside title in six years and earned the school's 12th State 1A tournament trip in the last 16 years.
Carey, guided by the steady hand and calm demeanor of coach Dick Simpson, has won 12 of its last 13 games by committing itself to tough man-to-man defense. They've allowed 39.2 ppg, nine points fewer than last winter. They've held opponents to 31.1% field goal shooting.
Tuesday, Carey's defense throttled Richfield's 62.2 ppg offense in the first quarter for a 14-8 lead and continued dominating in the second period, holding the explosive Tigers to three measly points. In the first half, Richfield (21-1) made only two field goals and trailed 32-11 at half.
"Our kids played great defense all night, particularly in the first half. I thought our defense took them and their crowd out of the game. They were stunned," said Simpson, whose team is nicknamed Big Blue in contrast to Richfield's sea of red.
Carey had "dug itself a hole," falling behind early in 56-41 road and 48-40 home losses to Richfield. As Simpson said beforehand about a third match-up, "We have nothing to lose and the pressure is all on them. We just have to come out and play the best we can possibly play."
"We had to come out and play a great game in the first half. And we needed four quarters of basketball to beat Richfield," said Simpson (149-32 in 7 seasons at the Panther helm).
No player had more of an impact than 6-1 forward Parke, who came up with huge plays all night. He said after the game, "We had big intensity tonight. We came out hard with in-your-face defense. And it took their crowd out of the game."
Carey didn't use full court pressure. The Panthers saved their breath for suffocating half-court man-to-man defense that forced the Richfield sharpshooters into bad passes and bad shots. In the first period the Tigers had eight turnovers and nine more in the second.
Richfield shot only 2-for-17 from 3-point range, 30% from the field.
How to handle Richfield's full-court defensive trapping pressure was another problem that Carey strategically solved with one quick inbounds pass followed by long football like post patterns to players who released behind the Richfield press.
Trailing 5-2 early, Carey started executing the strategy with a quiet pass from Blake Whitby to Parke on the press break. Sophomore Dillon Simpson linked up with classmate Trevor Peck on a similar play.
Parke grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Peck, who nailed a mid-range jumper from 16 feet. Kade Peterson got into the act by aggressively running the floor for a fast break hoop. A Whitby rebound turned into a Parke transition basket. A Whitby steal ended up in D.J. Simpson's hands, 14-8 Carey.
"The kids were loose and we wanted to run the floor," said coach Simpson, whose Panthers had also forced the issue and run the floor in Saturday's semi-final—breaking free from a close game and pummeling a good Community School team 54-35 with a 21-8 third-quarter spurt.
Another reason Carey beat Richfield Tuesday was that Simpson just out-coached Tiger coach Garr Ward.
In the second quarter Ward was a mystery, refusing to do anything like calling time outs or changing strategy to stop an initial 7-0 run and Carey's eventual 18-3 advantage in the period. D.J. Simpson (7 points) and Parke (6) did the most damage, but Carey also out-rebounded the Tigers 14-3 in the lopsided period.
For the game Carey had a 37-27 advantage on the boards.
Richfield's best player, senior Braiden Buckner, collected his second personal foul with 3:24 left in the first quarter. Buckner sat the entire second quarter. "I was surprised Braiden was on the bench that long," said coach Simpson. "In a game like this you have to gamble. We had players with two fouls, too."
The final reason that Carey won the championship game of the seven-school tournament was that the Panthers stayed cool when the Tigers made their inevitable run. And staying cool, they got some big plays from sophomores Peck and Simpson.
Simpson said, "Trevor stepped up and Dillon took care of the ball most of the time. They grew up a little."
In the third period Richfield turned up the pressure with Buckner (2 points first half) back in the game to get his usual 15 points and 9 rebounds, and high-energy 5-9 sophomore Michael Lemaziz (12 points, 4 rebounds, 9 steals) darting around the court and causing Carey trouble.
Richfield, forcing Carey into nine third-quarter turnovers, reeled off an incredible 14-1 run and whittled the 21-point Panther lead to 33-25 and then to 35-29. The Tigers went hard to the offensive boards. The situation was dire. Simpson must have used nine time outs to quell the surge.
"It was a little frustrating when they came back," said Parke. "Whenever he called a time out, coach told us to keep our heads about us."
First-year varsity players Peck and Dillon Simpson had combined for only 14 points when Carey lost to Richfield at home 48-40 Jan. 29. On Tuesday night, they teamed up for 20 points and seemed always in the right place at the right time. Indeed, the bounces were going Carey's way.
Peck must have called his 28-foot, 3-point bank that stopped the bleeding and restored Carey's lead at 38-30. D.J. Simpson made two huge blocks and, after a nice bit of penetrating on offense by Peterson, Simpson converted a nice bounce pass from Peterson for a 41-30 lead.
Carey started effectively spreading its offense and slicing seconds off the clock at the start of the fourth quarter, leading 41-32. Peck split the Tiger defense, went to his left hand and made a driving basket and three-point play for a 44-32 Carey lead. Richfield crashed the boards and D.J. Simpson collected his fourth foul and the Tigers made another run, this one 7-0 cutting the deficit to 44-39.
That's when clutch senior Whitby (4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists) calmly went into the lane and hit a 13-foot floater for a 46-39 lead. Buckner (8 points, 5 boards in the fourth) made a putback, but he misfired on two straight 3-pointers trying to draw Richfield still closer.
Parke made one of the biggest plays of the season with two minutes left, hauling down a D.J. Simpson missed shot and converting the two-pointer. Then Dillon Simpson rebounded a Whitby 3-point miss and made two charities for a 50-43 game.
Carey (62% from the line season compared to opponents 50%) didn't completely have ice in its veins from the stripe in the fourth but the Panthers were good enough, making 10-for-13 down the stretch and a season-best 22-for-32 for the game. They out-shot the Tigers 22-13.
Guarding a player as quick as Michael Lezamiz was no cakewalk for Dillon Simpson but he did a good enough job, and Dillon was determined to make good on his chances. He spotted a gaping hole in the right side of the Tiger defense and drove hard to the hoop for a 52-45 lead.
And the rest was free throws.
It was a total team effort for Carey (41% field goal shooting), whose contributors included Peck (13 points, 2 boards, 2 steals), Dillon Simpson (7 points, 7 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals), Peterson (4 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) and Heith Adamson (2 points, 3 rebounds).
The rock was D.J. Simpson, who scored in double figures for the 14th consecutive game and did much of the dribbling to move the ball up. He sparked Carey to its sixth straight win, going along with earlier eight-game and six-game winning streaks.
It's an even-numbered year, however, and that was a good omen for #2-seeded Carey. Richfield had won last year's Northside tournament after placing second to Carey in the season. The two teams have been in the league title game for five straight years, Carey winning in 2006 and 2004, and Richfield in 2007 and 2005.
Up next, Carey has a date with the Murtaugh Red Devils (16-6) in the Fourth District 1A championship game Thursday, Feb. 21, at 8 p.m. on the Murtaugh court. It's a rematch of last winter's third-place district game won by Carey 59-56, at Shoshone.
Second-seeded in the Magic Valley Southside tournament, Murtaugh like Carey played a great defensive game in beating top-seeded Hagerman 53-43 in Monday night's championship game, at Murtaugh. Taylor Wilson of Murtaugh scored 26 points including five 3-pointers.
Coach Simpson said, "Murtaugh is a good team. They have three really good players. They can shoot the ball and drive to the basket."
Richfield, last year's district winner 53-37 over Hagerman, must regroup and play red-hot Shoshone (13-11) in the Northside Conference second-place game Monday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at Shoshone. The winner of that game joins Carey with automatic State 1A tournament tickets.
Coach Larry Messick's #4-seeded Shoshone squad lost to Richfield 47-31 before running off back-to-back 51-33 and 65-36 loser bracket tournament wins over #7 Camas County (3-20) and #5 Dietrich (9-14) Monday and Tuesday. Richfield hasn't had an easy time beating Shoshone three times including 52-34 at home and, in a typical Shoshone slowdown, 28-23 on the Shoshone floor.
The Panthers can look ahead to the 16-team State 1A tournament Feb. 27-March 1 at Caldwell. It is the final 16-team small-school state tournament since the 1A splits into Division 1 and Division 2 next year.
If Carey beats Murtaugh next Thursday, coach Simpson's squad will draw the third-place team from the Second District (Lapwai, Prairie, Genesee, Kendrick, Troy) for a first-round state game Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 1:15 p.m. at Caldwell High School. If Carey loses to Murtaugh, the Panthers will draw the fourth-place Boise-area finisher for an 8 p.m. game Feb. 27 at Vallivue High.
Carey (22-6) won two of its four state tournament games last year and lost the consolation championship 52-50 to Troy. Genesee was the State 1A champion 77-53 over Greenleaf.