BURLEY — For the Burley High School girls basketball team to win the Great Basin Conference title on Thursday night, it took a balanced team effort and late-game tenacity.
Three senior Bobcats scored 11 points to lead them to a 50-47 win against rival Minico. Two of the top scorers were team leaders, but the third came off the bench.
Rebecca Tolman was a 3-point threat all night long, including her back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that took Burley from a tie game to a six-point lead. She said she didn’t realize how big those two shots were until she saw the scoreboard during a timeout soon after.
“I looked up and saw we were up by six,” she said, “and I knew it would make a difference down the stretch.”
Burley head coach Roger Caresia said that Tolman had struggled shooting coming into the game, but he and his staff had confidence in her, and she played to her potential in the title game.
“Becca’s got talent,” he said. “She got some really good looks tonight and hit them. When you come off the bench like that, you have to be ready as soon as you’re called on, and she was.”
Hallie Cook backed up Tolman’s effort when she converted an and-one opportunity soon after, then drained two free throws to make the lead 40-33 with less than four minutes to go.
“Becca started making them, so I was trying to help her out,” Cook said. “Those shots really helped us get our groove and gave us some energy.”
The Spartans had no intention of going away, however, and Maura Merrill was there to lead the charge. She scored all of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer to start the quarter and two more to keep Minico close in the final minute.
But Burley’s 11-of-16 performance from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter made it difficult for the Spartans to tie or take a lead, and with only a second left off the inbound, Saydi Anderson didn’t even have time to get off a shot before the buzzer sounded.
“We hit some big foul shots under pressure,” Caresia said. “Overall, we played with a little more poise than we have recently late in the game.”
Though the game ended with a close margin, the Bobcats kept a lead throughout the entire first half, including doubling up Minico’s score midway through the second quarter 18-9. The Spartans began to build a run fueled by Anderson, who scored 12 points to lead the Spartans on the night.
But with a four-point game and second remaining until the half, Sydney Pilling, another one of the 11-point scorers for Burley, nailed a 3-pointer to give her side a 23-16 lead at the half.
Caresia said Pilling and Tolman have been “the best 3-point shooters” for his side all season long.
The third 11-point scorer for Burley, Natalie Rice, had a more quiet scoring performance, but hit five of the Bobcats’ 11 free throws in the fourth quarter.
A big part of the win, Caresia said, was being able to defend well, and it started early. The Spartans could hardly get a scoring chance as the Bobcats crowded passing lanes and post Jemilynn Mahoney controlled the post down low cleanly, not earning any fouls throughout the entire first half.
“Offensively, we’re good, not great,” Caresia said, “so we need our defense. Later in the game we got a little fatigued, but for the most part, I thought the defense had a really good game.”
Burley will have to wait to find out its first-round opponent at state, which will be the third seed from the Boise-based District 3, a strong conference that boasts three ranked teams in the final girls basketball poll.
No. 5-ranked Minico will take on No. 4 Century, the top seed out of District 5-6, in the opening round of the tournament.
It’s the first district title for the Bobcats since 2013, and after missing the state tournament last year, Cook and Tolman are glad they get that shot one more time before graduation.
“We’ve been wanting this since freshman year,” Tolman said. “We’ve been playing together since we were little, so it’s amazing to get to do this together.”