Sometimes the little things, those small decisions, turn out to mean just about everything.
Carey High School senior Blair Peck made one of those small, huge decisions Saturday morning in the final seconds of the State 1A Division 2 boys' basketball championship game at The Idaho Center in Nampa.
With his team trailing 46-45 to defending champion Nezperce and 12 seconds left, Peck chased down a missed Nezperce free throw at the end line of the court. The ball was clearly headed out-of-bounds.
Peck could have done one of two things—grab the ball and immediately run the court, or let it go out and stop the action.
He grabbed it. And he went. It was a gamble, but a good one.
Peck dribbled straight down the court, drew the Nezperce defense to him and fed a bounce pass in the paint to senior Jacy Baird. Baird took the ball up and made the lay-up that gave Carey a 47-46 lead with three seconds left. And Nezperce's final, 32-foot Hail Mary missed.
So Carey's players, coaches and avid fans celebrated the town's first-ever state basketball championship, indeed, the first state hoops title ever won by a team from Blaine County.
Carey (24-2), finishing the season with 17 consecutive wins for the best record in school history, completed its comeback from a nine-point third-quarter deficit led by junior Baley Barg (21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) and Peck (12 points, 6 boards, 5 assists).
The one-point victory, coming on the heels of Carey's blowout 59-36 and 54-36 preliminary state tourney wins over Meadows Valley and Murtaugh, gave this Panther group the United Dairymen of Idaho first-place basketball banner to go with the state football title the boys won in November.
Carey coach Dick Simpson said, "At the start of the season these kids said they were going to win state—and I said, okay, let's do it. They accomplished every goal they set and I'm very proud of them."
It was hard for the team's scoring and inspirational leader Peck to relinquish the trophy afterwards. He finally did, sharing it with his teammates and sharing his thoughts about the game-winning play.
The situation was this, and, remember, Carey was totally outsized in the title game, dwarfed by towers—no Panther player over 6-1, while Nezperce had six players 6-2 or taller:
With Barg scoring nine points in the final quarter, Carey built a 43-38 lead with 2:13 left and Barg made it 45-41 going hard against all that Nezperce height with 1:18 on the clock. That's when Nezperce senior and top scorer Christopher Riggers swished a 3-pointer from way, way behind the circle, some 32 feet, 45-44.
Nezperce pressed, Carey got the ball to Peck and Riggers absolutely hammered him from behind near midcourt, but it was Peck called for traveling. A few seconds later Riggers (17 points, 8 boards) drove hard against Barg and scored giving the Indians a 46-45 lead at 0:24.
Barg, never shy on offense, missed his potential go-ahead drive at the other end and Riggers rebounded. Barg immediately fouled and Riggers stepped to the free throw line for a one-on-one at 12 seconds.
He missed. The ball darted off to the right, headed out, chased by no one except Peck.
Peck said, "I'm thinking, let it go, let it go. Then I thought—what if it's off of us? They would have the ball. So I grabbed it and took off. I figured it's always good to put pressure on the defense. I got clear to the other end of the court and their defenders collapsed and came at me. That left Jacy open. I heard him yelling and I got it to him."
The play gave Carey a one-point win and avenged last year's 57-56 loss to Nezperce in last year's title game.
It was Carey's third trip to the 1A state championship game and first win. The Panthers have been knocking on the door for years, having visited state 15 times in 19 years.
Coach Simpson has been there all of those years. He said afterward, "It feels great, but it's the kids who win it. We just put them out there and guide them along the way."
Simpson and his son, assistant Danny Simpson, made a big decision on the way to Saturday's championship game. They decided to go with a zone defense against Nezperce.
And Carey, which set a school record of holding opponents to fewer than 40 points a game for the entire season, ended up playing the zone all game. They dared the Indians to hit from the outside and took their chances with the Indian height advantage inside.
This was a Nezperce group that had shot 36% from the field in its opening-round 41-33 state win over Castleford (18-4) and only 28% (1-for-12 3-pointers) in its 45-38 semi-final triumph over eventual third-place Salmon River (18-7). And the Simpsons were watching.
"You know, when we saw them against Salmon River, they seemed to want to take that 3-point shot instead of penetrating," said Simpson.
"We started thinking, maybe they won't be on their 3-point game. We had thought about playing man-to-man, but on the way over to the game we decided to go with the zone. And it was working, so we decided to stay with it at halftime."
Indeed, Nezperce shot only 2-for-16 (13%) from 3-point range in the first half Saturday, and 25% overall. For the game, the Indians were 6-of-25 on 3s, and 30% from the field. Meanwhile, Carey was taking care of business and shooting 38% en route to a 21-20 lead at intermission.
Having been there before, Carey players relaxed a little.
Simpson said, "Before the game, we told them, there is no reason to have nerves. You made it to the championship game and it's all about having fun. The team that plays the hardest and hustles the hardest will probably win the game."
One Panther who did have a few nerves earlier in the tournament was junior Chance Chavez. He shot poorly in the 23-point win over Meadows Valley, but came alive with 10 points against Murtaugh and really got the Panthers going with all eight of his points (2 3-pointers) in the second quarter.
Simpson said, "He relaxed Friday. And I told Chance before the final—today is just a continuation of yesterday."
But the Nezperce height and rebounding (26-16 first-half edge) was a problem.
Simpson said, "Nezperce had us out-sized. They were tall as all get-out. It was hard to play them. We told our guys, be smart, play smart and don't make stupid fouls."
Added Peck, "We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds and height. But the zone defense helped us. So did our never-say-die attitude. We know it's not over until the final buzzer."
Peck only scored two points before half, but his eight points in the third period sparked a 13-3 Panther run that erased Nezperce's 30-21 lead and gave Carey a 34-33 lead at the break.
Meanwhile, Nezperce helped Carey's cause by making only 2-of-12 free throw shots.
"Ever since October, we've been playing for something more than ourselves," said Peck, referring to the tragic October death of football teammate Austin Hennefer that put a fire under Carey's end-of-season grid charge. "He would have been here. He would have been our biggest fan."
Other contributors besides Peck, who played all but 90 seconds of the final game—and the last six minutes with four fouls—were Baird (4 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals), Joe Laidlaw (2 points, 2 boards), Caleb Cenarrusa (5 rebounds), Chavez (4 assists), Shane Bingham (3 rebounds, 2 assists) and Dillon Cenarrusa (2 rebounds).
In Friday's 54-36 win over Murtaugh, Peck (5 boards, 3 steals, 3 assists) scored 17 points including five 3-pointers. Others were Baird (12 points, 6-for-6 field) and Barg (7 points, 10 boards). Carey shot 7-for-11 from 3-point range and 49% for the game in that one.
Against Meadows Valley Thursday, Carey had three players in double figures: Barg (16 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks), Baird (12 points, 6 boards, 5 assists) and Peck (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals). Others were Bingham (2 points, 6 steals, 2 assists), Laidlaw (6 points, 3 boards) and Dillon Cenarrusa (7 points).
Carey was one of four teams out of the six classifications to win state basketball titles for the first time last weekend.
In 5A, Mountain View (21-5) defeated Centennial (20-6) by a 47-44 score; in 2A, Melba (18-6) nipped New Plymouth (19-6) by a 31-30 score; and in 1A Division 1, Clearwater Valley (21-7) defeated 2009 champion Genesee (19-7) by a 49-46 count.
Madison of Rexburg (17-8) captured its first 4A title and first state championship since taking the 2007 5A crown. Madison's sixth state hoops title overall came at the expensive of Skyview of Nampa (21-5) by a 53-51 score in overtime. Twin Falls (20-8) finished third 40-33 over Minico (23-3).
The only state championship game that wasn't close in the final accounting Saturday was Fruitland's 64-52 decision over Weiser in the 3A title contest. Fruitland (19-6) won its first title since 2008 and third overall over its conference rival.
In post-season news:
Carey seniors Peck, Baird and Shane Bingham were named to the North team for Tuesday's North/South 2A/1A All-Star boys' basketball game at Shoshone. Coach Simpson was North coach. Senior Caleb Cenarrusa was an alternate.
In addition, Peck was chosen for the East squad playing in the East/West 5A-through-1A All-Star game Monday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Twin Falls High School gym. Minico coach Mike Graefe will coach the East and have five of his players on the squad, with Peck.
Here are final Carey stats:
Overall record: Carey 24-2 (10-0 home, 14-2 away). Offense: 1438 points (55.3 ppg). Defense: 1022 points (39.3 ppg). Field goal average: 39.6%. Close games: 8-1 in games settled by 6 points or less. Individual scoring: Blair Peck 364 points (14.0 ppg); Baley Barg 248 (9.5); Jacy Baird 170 (6.5); Dillon Cenarrusa 142 (5.5); Shane Bingham 116 (4.5); Chance Chavez 114 (4.4); Joe Laidlaw 84 (3.2); Caleb Cenarrusa 81 (3.1); Jack Cenarrusa 69 (2.7); Brandon Dilworth 33 and Charlie Rivera 17.
Rebounds: Barg 137 (66 offensive), Dillon Cenarrusa 107 (47 offensive), Baird 101 and Peck 100. Assists: Caleb Cenarrusa 70, Peck 62, Bingham 56, Baird 38. Steals: Peck 89, Bingham 53, Barg 44. Blocked shots: Barg 23, Caleb Cenarrusa 12. 3-pointers (93-324, 29%): Peck 51-143 (36%), Chavez 18-77 (23%), Barg 11-41 (27%), Bingham 7-35 (20%), Jack Cenarrusa 5-13 (39%), Dilworth 1-10. Free throws: 201-350 (57%, or 17-for-25, 68% at state). Free throws opponents: 209-374 (56%).
PANTHER NOTES—Carey lost only two games all season and the Panthers avenged each setback. Carey was drubbed 71-41 by Butte County Dec. 18 at Arco in a typical pre-Christmas holiday throwaway non-league game. Then the Panthers edged the Pirates 68-62 in overtime at Carey Jan. 11. In the fifth game of the season Carey also fell at Castleford 53-50 on Dec. 7, but the Panthers rallied from a big deficit to beat Castleford 57-56 in the 4th District championship game Feb. 23 at Murtaugh. With that victory Carey avoided playing Nezperce in the first game at the state meet.
By hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers (63%) in Friday's 18-point victory over Murtaugh, Peck (17 points in all) tied the Division 2 state record of most 3-pointers in a single game, set by Richfield's Tel Clark in 2009. Peck ended his two-year varsity career with 603 points in 52 games, for a 11.6 ppg average. He had 32 double-digit scoring efforts and 89 3-pointers. Peck scored 39 points in three games at state (13.0 ppg), same as last year.
Baley Barg (44 points) was the third-leading scorer among State 1A Division 2 players, behind Rockland's 5-10 senior guard Colton Christensen (51 points in 3 games) and Kootenai 6-3 senior guard Jacob Zarpentine (49 points in 2 games). Zarpentine's 32 points in Kootenai's 64-63 loss to Meadows Valley Friday equalled the state tournament record of Mackay's Kole Krosch set one year ago.....
Carey's previous best season record was 24-3 set in 2006. That team carried a 14-game winning streak into state and went 2-2, falling to Hagerman 67-58 in the consolation final of the then 16-team state bracket......The eight 4th District teams at the state tournament last weekend didn't have much success, aside from Carey's 3-0 run. The eight teams compiled an 8-13 record—Kimberly, Valley and Castleford going two-and-out, Shoshone, Minico and Murtaugh winning one game each, Twin Falls taking the third-place trophy with two wins....
Carey is 21-12 in its last nine state trips. The Panthers made their 15th state tournament trip in 19 years. Tenth-year coach Simpson is 220-45 for a winning percentage of .830....Since 1991, covering 21 winter seasons, Carey boys' basketball teams boast a 391-136 record for a .742 winning percentage.....
The 17-game Carey winning streak to end the 2010-11 season is right up there in the ranks of best-ever Panther winning streaks. The school's all-time winning streak record was 21 games in 1999. And the 2004 Carey team won 19 consecutive games en route to a 22-3 mark.
Having allowed only 39.3 points per game on defense, this year's Carey team is believed to be the first Panther edition to hold opponents to less than 40 points a game over the course of an entire season...
Carey's other appearances in the state championship game on The Idaho Center court were in 2001 and 2010.....Out of the eight teams in the Division 2 field, only three had won state titles—Castleford (1986, 1990 and 2003), Murtaugh (1967, 1973 and 1994) and three-time winner Nezperce (1978-79, 2010).