NAMPA • This time Buck Hendren made sure to have a speech prepared just in case he had to give one on the floor of the Idaho Center.
The Richfield girls basketball coach gave an impromptu message a year ago when his team took down the four-time defending 1ADII champion Blue Devils from Dietrich. A year later the two teams found themselves back in Nampa —deja vu. The result was the same in the box score, though Hendren was certain to have notes on hand when his team accepted its 2016 championship trophy.
Senior Hannah Walker scored a game-high 18 points for the Tigers Saturday morning to help lead Richfield past Dietrich, 51-40, to repeat as state champions.
“I was a little more prepared,” Hendren said with a hearty chuckle. “I just wanted to make sure that when you do something like this, you don’t forget anybody who helped you get here. So I kind of jotted a few names down.”
Hendren had a lengthy list of names to thank when the dust settled at the Idaho Center between the North Side Conference rivals. Among the group he had special words for were the six seniors on his team who helped bring the program to its current heights.
Once-upon-a-time, Hendren was a junior varsity boys coach at Richfield who was given the opportunity to lead the girls program. He saw eight girls coming up through the program that he knew were going to be special. Hendren admits it was a determining factor in his taking the head job for the girls program. Fast forward a few years and the six seniors who stayed with the program have done nothing but win.
“We kind of grew up together. The first summer ball I did was with this group,” said Hendren. “Their parents are friends with my wife. I’m friends with their dads. We do stuff together, they babysit my kids … It’s more than just the basketball. Basketball is just a bonus.”
Hendren’s team jumped out to an early lead on the Lady Blue Devils Saturday morning behind hot 3-point shooting as the Tigers hit three of the four they took in the first half. Taylor King and Hannah Walker’s shots put the Tigers up 14-5 five minutes into the game and paved the way for an 18-11 lead after one.
The Blue Devils made their move in the second, scoring the first five of the period to get back within two points. Dietrich went cold from there and entered the locker room in a 10-point hole. Their offensive woes from earlier games in the tournament continued, as the Devils shot 36.8 from the field in the first on just seven made field goals. Undeterred, though, Dietrich kept coming in the third behind freshman Matigan Bingham, whose clutch baskets cut the lead to a mere six going into the fourth.
“I’m real proud of the girls for all their efforts,” Dietrich coach Acey Shaw said. “They never gave up.”
Bingham hit another huge shot from distance early in the fourth before Katee Hubert free throws cut the deficit to just four. Dietrich never got closer, though, as the Lady Devils were forced to foul Richfield late. The Tigers responded by hitting 21-of-33 free throws in the game.
With less than a minute remaining in her basketball career, Walker had a moment of clarity as she stepped to the free throw line. After coming back from a devastating knee injury as a junior, Walker was right where she wanted to be as her career dwindled down. It hit her harder than any charge she’s taken.
“It hit me on the court when there was 42 seconds left. I was on the line and that was it,” Walker said. “Forty-two seconds left of basketball and onto the next chapter.”
The six seniors who played their last game Saturday leave a legacy at Richfield that will be hard to match. Despite not having their floor general in Mariah Lezamiz, the five healthy seniors held things together when things seemed most dire. From the No. 3 seed in this year’s district tournament to repeat state champions, this batch of Tigers leaves an indelible footprint in the program’s history books.
“We played basketball together in third grade. We’ve been playing together for so long that there’s a lot of trust,” senior April Wood said. “I love them and we trust each other.”
A year ago Dietrich was the team to beat in Idaho having won four titles in a row. Richfield was the upstart that had just six healthy players to choose from late in the season. This year they had all the pressure in the world on them and still managed to pass with flying colors. Wood admits that there were times this year when she doubted it the team would make a return trip to Nampa for the state championship game. It turns out the concerns were premature.
“I didn’t really know what to think when she went down. I thought maybe we would get to state, but not necessarily win. We relied on Mariah so much, whenever we were in trouble,” Wood said. “This year, we had to trust each other.”
The trust Wood spoke of brought another banner back to the Richfield gym, where it will likely hang next to its counterpart from a year ago. On the other side of the coin is Dietrich, who has now lost title games in consecutive seasons. Still, Shaw hasn’t let the gravity of what his program accomplished pass him by. Six-straight trips to the title game means a lot. And, even in defeat, Shaw made sure to let his girls know how proud he was.
“I told the girls, don’t hang your heads. You guys played your hardest and that’s what matters. If you can look in the mirror at the end of the game and say you played your hardest, it doesn’t matter if you won or lost,” Shaw said. “Even though it’s hard to swallow right now, the girls played hard all the way. Even to be here is amazing.”
Hendren’s team will lose several key pieces from its back-to-back championship teams when the 2016-17 season begins. There is nonetheless a lot of talent left in the program as sisters of current stars begin to make names for themselves and come out from behind their siblings’ shadows.
But right now Hendren isn’t thinking about that or summer ball. He’s soaking it all in with his seniors one last time.
“We’ll enjoy this one for a while,” said Hendren. “There will be a lot of tears shed in this locker room.”
Richfield 51, Dietrich 40
Richfield 18 10 6 17 — 51
Dietrich 11 7 10 12 — 40
Walker 18, Wood 12, Ta. King 7, B. Buckner 4, Rivas 4, To. King 3, Williams 2, Kent 1
Totals: 13 21-33 51
Hubert 14, Bingham 13, Larson 6, Dilworth 4, Heimerdinger 3
Totals: 15 7-13 40
3-point field goals: Richfield 4 (Ta. King 2, B. Buckner 1, To. King 1), Dietrich 3 (Bingham 3)
Team fouls: Richfield 14, Dietrich 24
Fouled out: Hubert, Larson (Dietrich)