TWIN FALLS — The big, bad Bruins are going back to state.

And, boy, did they earn it.

After a year absence from participating, Twin Falls fought its way back into the tournament with a gutty, physical 44-36 win over the visiting Minico Spartans Thursday night.

“These girls have so much heart,” said Twin Falls head coach Nancy Jones. “You could see it in their eyes. Even if we fell behind, you knew they had it.”

The victory gives the Bruins the Great Basin Conference tournament championship and the top seed from the district, a far-fetched thought for many people back in November.

“The way we started the season, I can honestly say I knew we could get here, but I don’t know if the girls thought we could,” Jones said. “We had a hard time getting going this year, but I’m super proud of them. This is a great group of girls.”

“It means a lot to be going to state as district champs,” said junior guard Morgan Harr. “It feels good. We were able to conquer everyone in our conference, and that’s a good thing to have under your belt.”

It was Twin Falls that got off to the hot start. Seconds after winning the tipoff easily, sophomore Kennedi Evans posted herself down low, received the inlet pass, and banked it home for 2. Harr followed up with a 3-pointer and the Bruins were rolling.

“I like to start the game off strong,” Evans said. “It’s good to show how we are going to play the rest of the way.”

Four minutes into the opening period, Minico found its footing and got on the scoreboard when Saydi Anderson connected on a pair of free throws. Suddenly the Spartans began to attack the rim, and, subsequently, worked their way back into the game.

Twin Falls led 13-9 after one.

Evans continued to work down low as she recorded 12 first-half points for the Bruins.

The Spartans answered the call with Rachel Baliola and Taylia Stimpson leading the way. At one point they closed the gap to 1 point before Twin Falls went on a mini run of its own.

A Tayla Sayer rainbow of a trey seconds before the halftime buzzer sounded brought Minico within 3, but Twin Falls entered the locker room holding a 20-17 advantage.

The Spartans seized the momentum early in the third behind a solid defensive effort that sealed off passes to Evans in the post. It involved an extended zone defense where they double teamed Twin’s guards up high, a scheme that forced numerous turnovers and allowed Minico to run the floor.

Christiann Craythorn connected on a jumper midway through the third that gave the Spartans their first lead of the game at 24-22. Their biggest cushion was 3 points, but the Bruins fought through their offensive stagnation and came right back.

“The girls knew it was coming,” Jones said. “Once we adapted and realized it was happening, they did a much better job.”

Sage Swan sunk a bucket moments before Harr buried a dagger 3 to end the third, and Twin Falls went up 31-27 entering the fourth.

The Bruins never looked back.

“We slacked off on defense some there in the third quarter,” Harr said. “We had to fight through that and get back to what was working.”Harr was money from the free throw line down the stretch, and Minico ran out of gas as it was forced to foul to try and extend the game.

“The flow was the biggest difference tonight,” said Minico head coach Anna Bateman. “They had a good flow, then there were momentum swings. They made a better run at the end and we didn’t respond.”

The Spartans got 8 points from both Baliola, Stimpson and Shelby Mackay, while Saydi Anderson pitched in 4.

Twin Falls was paced by Harr’s 18 points. Evans added 17.

Minico, a team that feeds of the energy, enthusiasm and passion of its head coach, takes an aggressive, throw-caution-to-the-wind style of basketball to Boise for the state tournament. The Spartans open their state championship bid against either Bishop Kelly or Middleton Thursday at 3 p.m. at Mountain View High School.

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“Our style of play is to play fast,” Bateman said. “You have to be aggressive to do that, and the girls are always a reflection of their coach.

“The message is to keep our heads up. There’s always something to learn from a loss, and we have some stuff to work on. We’ll head up to Boise ready to go next week.”

Twin Falls faces either Skyview or Caldwell in the 8 p.m. game at Mountain View. The Bruins are bringing A bus full of confidence to the Treasure Valley.

“Leaving a legacy for the kids that follow you is something we talk about a lot,” Jones said. “If not us, then who? We have every shot that every other team has. I want them to go out there, have fun and enjoy the experience. We’ll go give it our best shot.”

Twin Falls 44, Minico 36

Minico 9 8 10 9 — 36

Twin Falls 13 7 11 13 — 44

MINICO (36)

Saydi Anderson 4, Taylia Stimpson 8, Christiann Craythorn 2, Shelby Mackay 8, Brinley Stutzman 1, Rachel Baliola 8, Tayla Sayer 3, Bailey Black 2. Totals 9 15-21 36.

TWIN FALLS (44)

Kylie Baumert 1, Morgan Harr 18, Madison Glascock 1, Whitney Solosabal 3, Maddie Aardema 2, Sage Swan 2, Kennedi Evans 17. Totals 13 16-28 44.

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