MERIDIAN — Early on, the game was frustrating offensively for the Burley High School girls basketball team, but it shrugged off shooting problems and held strong on defense to earn a 40-25 win over Caldwell in the first round of the 4A state tournament.
The Bobcats had a distinct size advantage over the Cougars, whose tallest players stood at 5-foot-8, compared to Burley’s 6-foot-1 senior post Jemilynn Mahoney. She used her size well on defense, but her offense took a little while to develop.
Burley head coach Roger Caresia didn’t expect his senior post to rush for points early, though.
“We told her, ‘Wait and see how they’ll play you,’” he said. “In the past, she’d go really quickly and try to overwork. Now, she’s much more slow and methodical, and that’s when she works the best.”
Mahoney finished the first half with only three points. She said that, overall, though she had a resilient mindset, the Cougar defense got to her a bit.
“I let them get into my head for a little while,” she said, “but I have to forget about the past and keep moving forward so I can help my teammates.”
Her teammates helped her early, with Hallie Cook and Sydney Pilling scoring 14 of the 17 first-half points for Burley.
Cook scored nine of those points, the most of any player, and she did it by reading the defense and charging to the rim, something she carried over into the second half for a game-high 15 points.
Caresia said Cook and others were able to get to the basket by beating Caldwell’s trap defense, but Cook said she also had to force some of those lanes open up.
“At state, you’re playing against the best defenses in Idaho,” Cook said, “so you have to create those opportunities for yourself and keep pressuring them.”
Still, the Bobcats only held a 17-15 lead headed into halftime, and Caresia said the confidence the girls had coming in didn’t show in the early part of the game.
“Maybe we showed some signs of nerves,” he said. “We had a lot of turnovers, and they weren’t against the press, they were in our upcourt.”
The one thing that Burley did have going, and held throughout the entire game, was strong defensive pressure.
The Cougars shot 23.8 percent from the field in the game, and a lot of their shots were long layup attempts forced by good body position down low. Mahoney was a big factor in that, earning three blocks, and Caresia said Cook did well in the backcourt as well.
“She’s one of those players who prides herself on her defense,” Caresia said, “and if we can get one or two players to buy into the defense, the whole team seems to buy in. The game plan was terrifically executed.”
Burley played well on the boards, too, grabbing 30 defensive rebounds while allowing only four offensive rebounds for Caldwell. Mahoney had 13 of those rebounds to add to her 13 points.
Though the numbers show some clear leaders, Caresia said everyone who touched the ball for Burley played a role in the win.
“Every girl I put in tonight did something productive,” he said. “You look at someone like Jaida Page: it doesn’t show up in the stat column, but she had great ball control that allowed us to have good possessions.”
Burley (18-7) will face Bishop Kelly in the semifinals Friday at 8 p.m. back at Mountain View High School.
Burley 40, Caldwell 25
Caldwell 5 10 8 2 — 25
Burley 10 7 12 11 — 40
CALDWELL (25) — Xiana Campos 2, Julia Martinez 2, Jade Martinez 7, Katrina Vallejo 9, Heaven Campos 1, Jalen Callendar 4.
BURLEY (40) — Natalie Rice 1, Sydney Pilling 9, Hallie Cook 15, Rebecca Tolman 2, Jemilynn Mahoney 13.