It wasn't for the faint-hearted but if you wanted a thrill, you joined the big crowd at two Great Basin Conference tournament home games won in absorbing fashion by the Wood River High School girls' basketball team last week.
Wood River, making an indelible mark for itself with tenacious team defense and mental toughness in the fourth quarter, thrilled its standing-room-only supporters by beating the Jerome Tigers 41-39 Thursday and the Twin Falls Bruins 52-43 Saturday.
Owning a spotless 11-0 home record and 18-2 overall mark, Wood River has now won 22 of 23 home games over two years.
The come-from-behind victories against the finalist teams in last year's GBC girls' hoops tournament clinched Wood River's first ever State 4A tournament berth. Saturday's win was Hailey's 18th of the season, a new school record.
Senior guard Allie Hesteness, who scored a career-high 13 points against Twin Falls, said, "We've had a lot of tight games. We've showed up and we've learned, and our team chemistry is amazing. And our coach is a great coach."
Third-year Wood River coach Mendy Benson (40-25) said, "It was good for us to have to come from behind twice to win. We haven't dug ourselves into a substantial hole in a while and it was great to see their efforts and perseverance to dig themselves back out."
Winning five straight games and rising to the top of the conference since midseason, top-seeded Wood River has made a commitment to team defense and pushing the ball inside for high-percentage shots. The girls shot 45% from the field against both Jerome and Twin.
Mentally tough, the Wolverines have outscored opponents 138-84 in the fourth quarter in the last 10 games. Hammering the ball home and going to the line, they've shot 65% and out-pointed foes 115-80 at the charity line since midseason.
It's the kind of basketball that wins championships—and Wood River will try to nail down the GBC tournament title Thursday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. on its home floor. The Wolverine opponent will be the winner of Tuesday's game between #2-seeded Twin Falls (16-6) and #3-seeded Minico of Rupert (11-12).
Smith Sports Optics of Ketchum has donated admission fees for all Wood River High School and Wood River Middle School students.
Although Wood River has already qualified for only the second state tournament trip in the program's 36 seasons, Thursday's game is vitally important because it will go a long way to determining the seeding for the State 4A tournament opening round Feb. 17 at Timberline High School, Boise.
If Wood River wins, they'll open up at 1:15 p.m. next Thursday against the Feb. 12 state play-in winner between the Boise-area third-place team and Idaho Falls-area runner-up squad. That is certainly the preferable position to be in.
In contrast, the other side of the state tournament bracket awaiting the GBC tourney runner-up is likely to be packed with the state's top-ranked teams—#1 Rigby (21-0), #2 defending state champion Middleton (20-2) and #3 Preston (19-2).
One more game to determine the league title and top seed will be needed Friday, Feb. 11 if Wood River loses Thursday.
The Wolverines very nearly lost Saturday night, but they rallied big time for their third win in three tries over Twin.
With leading scorer Kaitana Martinez (17.5 ppg) limited to three points in the first three periods, Wood River trailed 34-28 after three. Led by Martinez's Rondo-like passing and a 13-4 fourth-quarter rebounding edge, Wood River put together a 17-2 run and breezed.
Martinez (11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 9 assists) and Haylee Thompson (a game-high 17 points, 11 rebounds) each scored eight points in the final quarter. Junior Cheyenne Swanson (9 points, 9 rebounds) yanked down five big boards in the final eight minutes. Hesteness' second 3-pointer of the game broke a 34-34 tie and capped a 9-0 run that put the Wolverines on top for good.
Benson said, "Allie had her best game of the year—her focus and determination were outstanding. Our posts did a great job on (Twin Falls senior post Jazlyn) Nielsen—especially Cheyenne, but our whole team guarded her in a way too.
"I thought Haylee Thompson, even though she didn't do anything fancy, did a great job of playing her role and putting the ball in the hole. We took advantage of them when Nielsen (12 points) was out of the game, and that made the difference in the final outcome.
"I give Twin a lot of credit for coming out strong and attacking, but in the end our girls mentally played tough and together regardless of the score."
Thursday's two-point game against #4-seeded Jerome (13-10) was just as exciting. Martinez (15 points, 4 steals, 8 assists) sparked the fourth-quarter 9-0 run that turned a 29-28 Tiger lead at the break into a 37-29 Wood River lead with five minutes remaining.
Martinez scored eight points in the final quarter including a clutch drive to the basket with a minute left for a 39-36 lead and a steal and two free throws with 13 seconds left. She got plenty of help from her team.
Haillie Taylor (6 points, 3 rebounds) came up big including a great inbounds pass Martinez converted in the fourth. So did Swanson (8 points, 7 rebounds), Hesteness (5 points, 2 steals, 2 assists) and Taylor Hayes (3 points, 2 boards). Jerome limited Haylee Thompson (11.8 ppg) to four points and four rebounds, but Thompson ran the floor for a clutch bucket and yanked down two key boards in the fourth.
Benson said, "KT was our one constant in terms of scoring. She had one of her best offensive efforts against a well-coached, strong team. Haillie Taylor might have been the 'difference maker' in the game. Technically she has to know four positions on the floor both offensively and defensively."
Carey boys keep winning, "Senior Night" next
Still unbeaten in the New Year, the Carey High School boys' basketball team (17-2) made it 10 consecutive wins Saturday afternoon by holding off a furious Hagerman rally 66-63 on the Pirates hardwoods.
Coach Dick Simpson's Panthers built a 16-point lead after three, only to see coach Kevin Cato's Pirates whittle it away with a 29-point fourth-quarter explosion. Both teams shot the ball well (Carey 49%, Hagerman 40%). The Bucs sizzled at 9-for-19 from 3-point range.
The Panthers (20 assists) found the open man led by the all-around play of seniors Shane Bingham (6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 7 assists) and Blair Peck (13 points, 5 steals, 3 assists). Zac Reid (21 points) and Ryan Luttmer (22) topped Hagerman (11-9), which lost by three at Carey Dec. 3.
Other Panther contributors were Chance Chavez (12 points), Baley Barg (11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 3 steals), Jacy Baird (8 points, 5 boards), Caleb Cenarrusa (6 points, 3 assists), Dillon Cenarrusa (4 points), Jack Cenarrusa (4 points, 3 assists) and Joey Laidlaw (2 points, 2 assists).
Carey (7-0 league) improved its Northside Conference record Thursday night with a season-high offense in a 76-55 win over the Camas County Mushers (6-13) at Fairfield. Again, it was a hot shooting affair (Carey 47%, 5-for-13 3-pointers and Camas 42%). Carey out-rebounded Camas 46-29 and had 18 steals and 19 assists as the Panther depth was dominant.
Leaders were Peck (17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals), Barg (13 points, 4 boards, 2 blocks) and Baird (12 points, 3 assists). Having good nights were Caleb Cenarrusa (4 points, 7 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals) and Laidlaw (6 points, 5 rebounds). Jordan Robles had a game-high 20 points for Camas.
Carey has its "Senior Night" Friday, Feb. 11 in the season finale against Richfield (6-10). The eight-team Northside Conference boys' tournament debuts Feb. 14 at Murtaugh.
WRHS boys wrap up season
Two road games this week finish the regular-season slate for the Wood River High School boys' basketball team.
Coach John Radford's Wolverines (0-17, 0-9 league) visit Twin Falls (14-4, 6-3) today, Wednesday and go to Mountain Home on Friday, Feb. 11.
The Great Basin Conference tournament opens Tuesday, Feb. 15 when Wood River as the sixth seed in the six-team league will visit the #3-seeded team, either Jerome (13-5, 7-2) or Twin Falls. Leading the league is Minico (17-1, 9-0).
Wood River dropped a pair of league games last week, 59-32 at Burley Wednesday and 54-24 at home to Minico Friday. Stone Sutton (11 points, Alex Padilla (7) and Ben Williams (6) led the way against Burley. Stone added 14 against Minico.
Cutthroat girls come up big in Northside win
Action heated up Monday night in the eight-team Northside Conference 1A Division 2 girls' basketball tournament at Dietrich, where The Community School of Sun Valley stayed alive with a solid win.
Meanwhile, top-seeded Dietrich (19-1) held off the upset-minded Carey Panthers (10-10) by a 47-40 score in a battle.
Coach Erika Connelly's Cutthroats (5-10) snapped a six-game losing streak with a 49-40 loser-bracket victory over Lighthouse Christian of Twin Falls. The 49 points represented the best game of the season for The Community School girls, who average 26.7 ppg offense.
Ella Marks (8.2 ppg) scored a season-high 19 points, Natalie Goddard (8.5) added 14 and Julie Doan had a season-best 11 along with 4 by Chelsea Cloud. The Cutthroats jumped to a 15-4 first-quarter lead in the win.
Carey, losers to Dietrich by 13 and 21 points during the season, scraped and clawed and built a 17-16 halftime lead, only to see the vaunted Blue Devil defensive pressure take a toll in Dietrich's 17-8 third quarter. Jaide Parke (14 points, four 3-pointers) and Dietrich's Moriah Dill (14) were top scorers.
Coach Lane Durtschi's Panthers opened the tournament Saturday with a 62-29 romp over Lighthouse. Parke's season-high 23 points included five 3s. Micaela Adamson added 14 points, Nicky Gomez 9, Lilly Rivera 6, McKayla Mecham 5 and Darby Northcott 5.
If Carey advanced in the loser bracket with a win over Castleford Tuesday night, the Panthers will play the winner of Tuesday's game between The Community School and Camas County of Fairfield (6-13) today, Wednesday at 6 p.m.