MERIDIAN — “I am just so proud of these girls,’’ Roger Caresia said. “This group has come so far.’’
Like one step away from a state championship.
Caresia’s Burley High School girls basketball squad took that huge step Friday with a 34-23 victory over Bishop Kelly in the 4A state semifinals at Mountain View High School.
“This group has a tough mindset. We’ve got a lot of seniors. We play with a lot of grit. We play with a lot of heart,’’ said Caresia. “We didn’t play great tonight against a very good team but we fought, and we showed a lot of character.’’
Burley showed it wasn’t going to back down early, jumping out to a 12-5 lead after one quarter of play. But the Knights would not go away.
“Hey, they’re tough, they’re gritty and they’ve got a lot of tradition,’’ Caresia said. “We knew they weren’t going to back down, but we kept competing, kept fighting.’’
That they did, despite early foul trouble and senior point guard Sydney Pilling limping off the court with a turned ankle midway through the second period. Bishop Kelly scratched back to trail 19-16 at intermission.
But Pilling, who led her team’s balanced attack with 11 points, stoked the Bobcats offense right back up to start the second half, drilling a 3-pointer from the right corner and finishing things up in the third with another trey with two seconds remaining that brought the strong BHS faithful screaming to their feet.
“Our community has been terrific. They’ve really supported these girls,’’ Caresia said of the huge green-clad contingent in attendance. “We love what they’ve done for us. It’s just great.’’
The fourth quarter turned into a defensive struggle as Pilling’s nifty left-handed bank at the 6:38 mark was the quarter’s only field goal. While Burley could only manage 4-of-9 shooting at the free-throw line, its defense was enough, checking the Knights to just two free throws to set up the Bobcats’ first title game since Gordon Kerbs’ 2007 squad.
“Burley played well. You’ve got to give them credit,’’ said Bishop Kelly coach Derek McCormick. “They did what they had to do to win tonight.’’
Part of that was holding the Knights to 16 percent shooting while hitting 37 percent of its field goals.
Despite foul trouble, Burley 6-foot-1 post Jemilynn Mahoney finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Hallie Cook finished with seven points.
“We’ve beaten two good teams here,’’ Caresia said of his wins over District 3 opponents Caldwell and Bishop Kelly. “No disrespect to them, but we believe we belong here, too. We are confident in what we’re trying to do.
“I could not be prouder of this them. How far some of them have progressed is just so impressive. I can’t tell you how happy I am for them. They’ve worked so hard for this and it is paying off.’’
Theresa Reeping was the Knights’ only real offensive threat on the night, finishing with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
The Bobcats (19-7) will take on Century, a 55-40 winner over Middleton, in the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
“We’ll just keep competing and see where that lands us,” Caresia said.