NAMPA • There were times when even head coach Acey Shaw thought it was a stretch that Dietrich would play in its sixth-straight 1ADII championship game.
The Blue Devils lost their first four games of the 2015-16 season. They finished the regular season 10-9, a far cry from the squads that rolled through their slate of games in recent years. Dietrich entered as the No. 2 seed from a conference tournament it has dominated the better part of the last half decade.
But Dietrich did what it always does when North Side Tournament play began a few weeks ago: it won when it matters most. And here are the Blue Devils once again, on the verge of claiming a fifth title in six tries.
“At the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have thought we would be there,” said Shaw. “It seems like its new every year. Every year is a new year. It doesn’t get old.”
In a thrilling game that came down to the final possession, Dietrich freshman Matigan Bingham nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining to lead her team past Salmon River, 47-44, to set up a rematch of last year’s state championship game with rival Richfield at the Idaho Center on Saturday.
“It’s pretty much the best feeling in the world,” Bingham said with a laugh.
The North Side Conference champions struggled offensively in a 37-30 win over Deary on Thursday night and were in desperate need of a quick start on Friday. They got that in the form of nine Katee Hubert first half points and a solid first half shooting percentage of 41.7. Compared to the 27.3 they shot in the tournament opener, it was a welcomed sight for Shaw to see 26 points on the board and an eight point advantage heading into the locker room.
“The first half on offense, everything was going our way,” said Shaw.
The shots stopped falling for Dietrich in the third, however, and the Savages found their rhythm and closed the gap to just a point. The Blue Devils were outscored 13-8 in the period and lost any momentum they had gained after a dominant first half.
A large part of that was due to a lack of rebounding, according to Shaw. After having an 11 rebound edge in the first half Salmon River out-rebounded Dietrich 41-40 in the game. There was clearly a swing in momentum despite Shaw’s team leading by three heading into the final quarter.
“It was too close for me,” Shaw said. “It made me sweat.”
Salmon River’s Payton Branstatter tied the game at 36 with just over five minutes left in the fourth with a pair of made free throws. The Savages then took the lead on a Sarah Laritz free throw. Things seemed to be slipping out of Dietrich’s reach after dominating much of the game.
That’s when Bingham took matters into her own hands.
The freshman made a pair of huge 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter. The first gave Dietrich a temporary one-point lead that later turned into two on a Hubert layup and-one. Salmon River had more tricks up its sleeve as Chevelle Shepherd and Branstatter hit back-to-back shots at close range to put the Savages back in front. Bingham then proceeded to calmly take one of the biggest shots of her life.
With about 1:15 remaining in regulation, Bingham lined up the go-ahead 3-pointer perfectly and did what she always does: she stared at the rim. The ball hit nothing but net. The freshman’s clutch shot gave Dietrich a 45-44 lead late.
“The coaches always say, ‘Keep an eye on the rim,’” Bingham said. “I felt pretty confident in myself. So I let it go.”
Hubert hit a pair of free throws to pad the lead up to three in the game’s closing seconds. Salmon River had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation but the buzzer sounded before the Savages were able to get a final shot off. For a team laden with seniors, it was the freshman that saved the day for Dietrich this time.
“One thing about that young girl taking a shot: She has no conscience of whether to shoot or not,” Shaw said. “She doesn’t care if she misses or makes it. That’s what makes her a good shooter.”
Dietrich’s victory propels the team back into the state title game for the sixth-straight season. The Blue Devils quest for five-straight titles was thwarted by rival Richfield a year ago at the Idaho Center. They get a chance to make amends for last year’s outcome on Saturday.
The feeling is one of pure elation for Shaw. He saw his team fight through growing pains and realize its vast potential late in the season. It’s something that never gets old for a coach who’s been at it for 11 years.
“The girls played better at the end than they ever have. Now to get back there … it’s quite a good feeling,” Shaw said. “You can make your goals if you work hard.”
Dietrich and Richfield square off in the 1ADII title game Saturday at the Idaho Center. Tip-off is sent for 9:30 a.m.
Dietrich 47, Salmon River 44
Dietrich 47, Salmon River 44
Dietrich 12 14 8 13 — 47
Salmon River 6 12 13 13 — 44
Hubert 16, Bingham 9, Larson 6, Heimerdinger 6, Eggleston 4, Dilworth 4, Shaw 2
Totals: 17 10-16 47
SALMON RIVER (44)
Shephard 15, Branstetter 12, Tucker 11, Laritz 6
Totals: 16 8-13 44
3-point field goals: Dietrich 3 (Bingham 3), Salmon River 4 (Tucker 2, Branstetter 2)
Team fouls: Dietrich 14, Salmon River 16
Fouled out: Shephard (Salmon River)