In the highly competitive Idaho High School Basketball Championships, rarely do two teams battle all the way through the three-day meet for three straight years and end up meeting three times in the boys' championship contest.
Yet that was exactly the situation for the Carey Panthers and Nezperce Indians Saturday in the State 1A Division 2 championship game at The Idaho Center in Nampa. Two excellent programs and two outstanding coaches locked horns again, this time in the ultimate rubber game.
Nezperce won 57-56 in 2010. Carey gained revenge 47-46 last March for its first-ever state title. This time, the tall and hot-shooting Nezperce Tribe (22-3) took all the suspense out of the game with a stiffling defense that held Carey scoreless in the second quarter. And Nezperce breezed 62-47.
Defending champ Carey (19-7) fought back and tied Nezperce 36-36 after intermission, but Nezperce's 15-point halftime lead stood up. Indeed, the Indians shot nearly 53% after half to hold Carey off. The Panthers managed to cut their 22-point deficit in half, to 11 points, but drew no closer.
Twelfth-year Nezperce coach Dave Baldus said, "There was a tremendous desire to win by both teams in the three championship games we've played. Nobody gives up. This time, we got the lead and were hoping to extend it in the second half. But Carey kept battling back."
Baldus added, "This is the best shooting team I've had here—best in field goal percentage and best at the free throw line. I'd also have to say our defense did the job. We were hoping to wear them down in the first quarter and then come at them with the press in the second."
Senior 6-5 wing Sawyer Wahl (a game-high 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists, two 3-pointers) was the Nezperce star and Carey's early nemesis Saturday.
In the first quarter, Wahl drew three offensive charges in the lane and essentially eliminated the Carey strategy of penetration as a way of countering the Nezperce height edge and drawing some fouls.
Carey senior Baley Barg (13 points), in early foul trouble and held scoreless before half, said, "When Sawyer drew those three charges, it scared us from driving. We ended up standing around the outside on offense.
"The second quarter killed us. We played hard in the second half, but Nezperce is good."
Nezperce won its two preliminary games in 27- and 22-point routs 68-41 and 55-33 over Rockland and Castleford.
The Indians out-rebounded Carey 26-14 in the first half (8-0 on the offensive boards) and shot 4-for-12 in 3-pointers, and 6-for-15 for the game (40%). For the entire tournament, Nezperce shot 42% from the field, compared to 29% for opponents. The Tribe was 50-for-71 at the line (70%), its foes 30-for-50 (60%). Nezperce out-rebounded its state foes 115-93.
Carey coach Dick Simpson said, "I thought with their height, we'd have to zone Nezperce. I just didn't think they'd shoot 3-pointers as well as they did. They shot really well. And they're a great free throw shooting team.
"Sawyer stood in there and took those charges, and they also put a lot of pressure with their height on the perimeter when we were on offense. But I was proud of the kids stepping up in the second half and making a good run at them. We had a very successful season. We won 17 in a row, and we played some good teams to do that.
Barg said, "We started 2-6, and ended up 17-1. That's not bad."
Seniors Chance Chavez (16 points, 4 rebounds), Jack Cenarrusa (7 points, 4 boards, 2 steals, 5 assists) and Charlie Rivera (6 points, 3 steals) were standout Panther players in the title game.
Reaching the championship was no easy task for Carey.
The Panthers needed a game-winning left-handed driving layup by junior guard Jordan Dilworth to beat Northside Conference rival Dietrich 38-36 in Friday's semi-final contest at Caldwell High School. Dilworth's only points came with only three seconds left in regulation.
All five Carey players touched the ball in the final sequence that began with an inbounds with 29 seconds left.
The preferred Carey shooter was top scorer Barg (15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals). But Dietrich defenders hemmed in Barg outside the 3-point circle with time fast expiring.
"I saw Baley get in trouble so I went to help and got the ball," said Dilworth, the Carey football quarterback whose season ended with a right shoulder injury during November's championship game loss to Lighthouse Christian. "I saw an opening and drove. Dietrich defended it well. Every once in a while I'll take that shot with my left hand. This one went in."
Twice a winner over Dietrich by 8 and 9 points this season, Carey "came out so tight it was hard to keep any flow going," Simpson said.
The close game featured five ties and seven lead changes, most in the first half when Dietrich out-rebounded Carey 19-10. At half, Carey led 20-17 because of 12 Blue Devil turnovers. For the game, Dietrich out-pointed Carey 14-4 at the free throw line, but had only five field goals after half.
Simpson said, "The kids don't want to lose to Dietrich. They put a lot of pressure on the perimeter and we just missed a lot of shots early. I thought if we could just get a roll here and a roll there, the kids might have relaxed. We did give up some rebounds, but we played hard man-to-man defense the whole game and contested every shot."
Rivera's tenacious defense was a huge factor.
"Charlie made the hustle plays. He came up big in the first half," said Simpson.
Rivera finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 4 steals. Others were Garrett Lee (4 points, 3 rebounds), Chavez (4 points, 2 assists), Dillon Cenarrusa (4 points, 5 rebounds) and Jack Cenarrusa (3 boards, 2 steals). For Dietrich, sophomore Vance Perron (9 points), senior Jakob Howard (7 points, 14 rebounds) plus Gray Weber (8 points, 6 boards) were the leading lights.
Coach Wayne Dill's Blue Devils (20-6) ended up winning the third-place trophy 40-39 over Castleford (15-11) Saturday. The Blue Devils have now dropped nine straight games to Carey dating back to a 47-45 Northside tournament win over the host Panthers in 2009.
Thursday, Carey steamrolled the Kootenai Warriors (7-14) by a 58-38 score with a 47-38 edge on the boards. Kootenai had 21 turnovers and Carey defenders made 18 steals, led by five apiece by Barg and Jack Cenarrusa. Chavez (15 points, 5-for-8 from 3-point range) was the top scorer and junior Garrett Lee (10 points, 7 rebounds) showed promise.
Check today's Express Web site for more state details, and the March 21 Local Life section for other title game photos.
Other state results:
Glenns Ferry (20-7), who split a home-and-home with Carey this season, opened the three-day 1A Division 1 meet with a 95-57 win over Horseshoe Bend Thursday, then wrapped up the school's first state hoops title since 1981 with a 64-59 comeback win over Lapwai (17-8). Chris Popoca (50 points) and Adrian Martinez (31) led the Pilots, who nipped third-place Genesee (25-1) 34-33 in the semis—ending Genesee's 24-game win streak.
In 5A, Borah of Boise (25-1) won its 23rd straight game beating Post Falls (21-4) by a 49-31 score. It was Borah's first title since 2005 and 10th overall in school annals.
In 4A, the Rigby Trojans (24-2) outdueled district rival and defending state champion Madison of Rexburg (19-8) for the fourth time in five tries this season, this one by a 56-49 score. It was Rigby's first-ever 4A crown, and first state title since 1987. Twin Falls (23-3) once again settled for third place 51-49 over Moscow.
Fruitland (17-8) won its second straight 3A title and third in five years 57-51 over six-time state champ Snake River of Moreland (18-8). The 2A winner was Cole Valley Christian (23-2) 51-48 over Kamiah (21-4). It was Cole Valley's third state title, but first at the 2A level, and first since 2004.
Here are final Carey stats:
Overall record: Carey 19-7 (6-4 home, 13-3 away). Offense: 1441 points (55.4 ppg). Defense: 1160 points (44.6 ppg). Individual scoring: Baley Barg 382 points (14.7 ppg), 20 double digit games, 61% free throw shooting; Dillon Cenarrusa 257 (9.9), 12 double digit; Chance Chavez 239 (9.2), 78% free throws; Jack Cenarrusa 145 (5.8); Sheldon Hansen 104 (4.0); Jordan Dilworth 74 (3.9); Garrett Lee 88 (3.4); Charlie Rivera 48 (1.9); Patrick Baird 53 (2.1); Poncho Gamino 28; Jayce Koudelka 11; Gunner Thompson 9; Nate Adamson 3.
Rebound leaders: Baley Barg 200 (7.7 per game), Dillon Cenarrusa 187, Jack Cenarrusa 70, Garrett Lee 60. Assists: Chance Chavez 63, Jordan Dilworth 51, Charlie Rivera 50, Jack Cenarrusa 50, Baley Barg 49. Steals: Baley Barg 68, Charlie Rivera 47, Jack Cenarrusa 41. Blocked shots: Baley Barg 24, Jack Cenarrusa 19. 3-pointers (121-for-447, 27%): Chance Chavez 55-for-136 for 40%, Jack Cenarrusa 17, Sheldon Hansen 16, Jordan Dilworth 12, Baley Barg 11, Charlie Rivera 4, Jayce Koudelka 3, Gunner Thompson 2, Dillon Cenarrusa 1. Free throws: Carey, 208-365, 57%; opposition 250-461, 54%.
PANTHER NOTES—Carey (10 3-pointers) needed to battle back from a 21-10 first-quarter hole two years ago in its 57-56 loss to Nezperce. The Nezperce star of that game was senior guard Damon Leitch, who scored 19 in the first half and 27 for the game....This was the fourth straight year Carey played Nezperce at state, and the Indians have won three of the four meetings.....
Carey and Dietrich were no strangers meeting at state. In fact, Friday's tight semi-final contest was reminiscent of Carey's 61-59 overtime semi-final victory over Dietrich at the 2010 State 1A Division 2 tournament that set up the first of three championship game meetings between Nezperce and Carey.....Back in 2009 after a first-round 64-44 loss to Nezperce, Carey ousted Dietrich 72-66 in the consolation bracket en route to the consolation title...
In his three state championship games, Sawyer Wahl scored 38 points against Carey with 28 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 assists. He hadn't made a 3-pointer in the two title contests until drilling two 3s against Carey. Said coach Baldus, "Sawyer is a very competitive player. This season we let him play a little on the perimeter to help his college basketball prospects. The fact that we have other big kids (like 6-6 junior Shane Kuther and 6-4 senior Mitch Wemhoff) allowed us to do that."...
The eight 4th District teams at the state tournament did a better job this year compared to last year's 8-13 record for eight teams. This year the Magic Valley record was 11-11, with four trophies—Glenns Ferry's first place, Carey's second place plus the third places for Twin Falls and Dietrich. Jerome and Valley went two-and-out, Filer was 1-2 and Castleford was 1-2.....The Boise area entered the most teams, 16, and came away with nine trophies—three first places, three third places and one in consolation. Eastern Idaho sent 13 teams and won six trophies—one first place, two seconds and three in consolation. Northern Idaho entered 11 teams and earned five trophies—one first place, three seconds and one third.
Carey is 23-13 in its last 10 state trips. Last weekend the Panthers made their 16th state tournament trip in 20 years. Eleventh-year coach Simpson is 239-52 for a winning percentage of .821....Since 1991, covering 22 winter seasons, Carey boys' varsity basketball teams have amassed a 410-143 record for a .741 winning percentage.....
The 17-game Carey winning streak prior to Saturday's state championship game loss is right up there in the ranks of best-ever Panther winning streaks. Last year's Panther team ended its first-ever state championship season with a 17-game winning streak. The school's all-time winning streak record was 21 games in 1999. The 2004 Carey squad won 19 consecutive games en route to a 22-3 mark.
Carey's other three appearances in the state championship game on The Idaho Center court were in 2001, 2010 and 2011.....The Panther hoops program now has one first-place trophy (2011) and three seconds (2001, 2010 and 2012)....Carey captured state third-place trophies in 2003 and 1994, and won consolation titles in 1993 and 2009.....The Panthers have now brought home a state boys' basketball trophy for four consecutive years, after the frustration of losing the state consolation final for three straight years from 2006-08.....
The 19-7 Carey campaign snapped an amazing string of six consecutive 20-win seasons for the Panther program. They were 24-3 in 2006, 22-6 in 2007, 23-5 in 2008, 21-6 in 2009, 23-3 in 2010 and 24-2 in 2011.....Carey's leading scorer Baley Barg finished his career with 630 points in two varsity seasons. Dillon Cenarrusa had 399 and Chance Chavez 353......The all-time Carey career scoring leader is Brad Tingey with 1,608 points...
Out of the eight teams in the Division 2 field, only three had won state titles—Castleford (1986, 1990 and 2003), Dietrich (1966) and three-time winner Nezperce (1978-79, 2010).....Former Carey coach Ferris Lynn, who guided Carey athletic director Lee Cook on the Panther basketball team in the 1960s, attended the Carey state tournament games and sat with Cook. Lynn coached Wilder to State 1A hoops championships for three straight years from 1991-93, and also in 1998.