TWIN FALLS • Expectations are always high for Buhl basketball. Playing in consecutive state title games and winning a 3A crown tends to do that sort of thing. But even the Indians managed to outdo themselves this season.
Behind a game-high 27 points from senior Hayden Eckert, Buhl wrapped up a perfect 9-0 conference season by defeating Gooding 69-45 in the Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference title game Tuesday night. The Indians went undefeated in regular-season and tournament conference games for the first time under head coach Dan Winn. It is the fourth-straight state tournament appearance and third-straight district title for Buhl, who is a staggering 65-9 over the last three seasons.
“At the beginning of the season, we talked about that, as good as you guys are … even when you won it all, somebody in our conference beat us that year,” said Winn. “That was something that these guys talked about at the beginning of the season. The first half was pretty rough. We went 1-for-11 from 3. And then our kids relaxed and played ball in the second half. And Hayden was special.”
Offense was a struggle for both teams to start on Tuesday. Buhl mustered eight points the entire quarter while Gooding had just three until a Clancy Cockerham 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Senators a bit of momentum. The senior scored all six of Gooding’s points in the opening quarter. Tyler Visser’s 3-pointer midway through the second tied the game at 12, though Buhl finished the quarter on an 11-5 run to take a 23-17 lead into the locker room.
Cockerham made his presence felt again early in the third when he hit another 3-pointer on Gooding’s first possession to bring the team back within a basket. But just when the tide appeared to turn for Gooding, the 3’s began falling for Buhl. After making just one from distance in the first half, the Indians went a blistering 9-for-15 in the second half to take a stranglehold on the game. The Indians shot 50 percent from the field Tuesday compared to just 27.1 for the Senators.
“It was pretty special to watch that second half. We stretched it out. Hayden’s unstoppable. (Michael Lively’s) unstoppable,” said Winn. “It’s just a good team win. Talent wins.”
Kasey Crossland and Lively joined Eckert in double-figure scoring with 13 points and 12 points, respectively. Clancy Cockerham and Wyatt Williams each scored 13 for Gooding. As successful as Buhl has been in recent years there has always been a SCIC loss or two that has blemished an otherwise sterling record.
A veteran team with leaders like Eckert set the bar high by shooting for a perfect final act in conference play. That mission was accomplished Tuesday evening.
“You never really want to lose in conference. And we just figured it being our last year we want to try and meet that. And we did,” said Eckert. “So, it’s a good feeling.”
Though it’s the third-consecutive time the Indians have cut down the nets at CSI as district champions, the novelty hasn’t warn off. It’s too big a moment for seniors who are playing in their last games on the hardwood.
“It’s a moment we’ll remember forever,” Lively said. “These are the best memories of our lives .”
Buhl begins state tournament play March 3 against either South Fremont or Shelley. Gooding still has a chance at state as well, as the Senators play an undetermined opponent in a play-in game on Saturday.
The Indians fell in the state finals to South Fremont a season ago in a tight 47-42 game at the Idaho Center. It’s not something the team has forgotten as it begins its latest state championship run. Buhl isn’t content to have won the SCIC, either; they aren’t parading their championship t-shirts just yet. That being said, Winn is making sure to take in special moments when his team cuts down nets and poses for pictures with new trophies. Because as good as the Indians have been in recent years, nothing is guaranteed. Not even for a team that has won nearly 70 games over the last three years.
“This is one of the best groups to ever play for Buhl. Talent wins,” said Winn. “You have to savor it. Who knows if this will ever happen again. You never know.”
Buhl 69, Gooding 45
Buhl 69, Gooding 45
Buhl 8 15 20 26 — 69
Gooding 6 11 11 17 — 45
Eckert 27, Crossland 13, Lively 12, Elkin 12, Loveless 3, Tonge 2
Totals: 25 9-17 69
Cockerham 13, Williams 13, Visser 7, Comstock 5, Jennings 4, Funkhouser 3
Totals: 13 13-18 45
3-point field goals: Buhl 10 (Eckert 6, Elkin 2, Loveless 1, Crossland 1) Gooding 6 (Cockerham 2, Williams 1, Comstock 1, Visser 1, Funkhouser 1)
Team fouls: Buhl 13, Gooding 17
Fouled out: Pierson (Gooding)