TWIN FALLS — When Twin Falls High School head boys basketball coach Matt Harr emerged from the Bruins’ locker room after a hard-fought victory over Minico Tuesday night, his team’s state of mind was evidenced by the Gatorade dripping from his shirt.
After two years of watching the 4A state tournament from the stands, Harr was more than happy to sacrifice an article of clothing to the cause.
It was far from easy, but Twin Falls rode a solid defensive performance — and found just enough offense — to take down the Spartans 53-50 Tuesday night. The win clinched a spot in the state tournament and put the Bruins in the Great Basin Conference title game.
“This means a lot because we’ve had two pretty tough years,” Harr said. “These guys played so well the last six weeks of the season.”
Minico took the early lead on a Kobe Matsen jumper. Faust Ystueta answered on the other side for Twin Falls, and a relatively clean but intense basketball game was already cranked up to 10.
The Spartans’ last lead of the game came midway through the opening period, but a Winston Duggan 3-pointer gave the Bruins an advantage they would never relinquish. It was close throughout, but Twin Falls would not be denied.
The Bruins were on top 12-10 after one.
Ystueta, who missed his entire sophomore year with an injury, evolved into the quiet leader for Twin Falls as the season progressed. At 6-foot-3, the junior has all the physical tools to be successful. But it was the mental aspect that helped the Bruins get back to state.
“He is a very smart player,” Harr said. “Sometimes he gets caught up in the game a little bit, but he’s been solid all year for us. He’s been that leader. He shows it in practice.”
Ystueta is a microcosm of the growth Twin Falls has made this year.
“We’ve just jelled together,” Ystueta said. “Our defense has come along really well. It’s been a great run, and we’re looking forward to what comes next.”
Ryan Ball, one of the Bruins’ twin towers (along with Mitchell Brizee), completed an and-1 late in the first half to open a nice lead. Twin Falls went into the locker room on top 28-22.
Behind each victor is the vanquished. And even though Minico came up short, Tuesday night was a game that absolutely could have gone either way. Head coach Ty Shippen couldn’t say enough good things about his squad’s performance.
“I’m just really proud of my guys,” Shippen said. “We competed at a high level and we played well together. One small little thing one way or another could have changed the outcome of the game.
“This was maybe one of our best defensive games of there,” he added. “That’s all you can ask for, to have an opportunity to win at the end. We hadn’t played Twin well all year, so this was great.”
In particular, sophomore Brant Etherington stepped up with 18 points for the Spartans, including a burst in the third quarter that brought his team back from the brink.
“Brant, when he wants to, he’s really good,” Shippen said. “He has great hands, he can drive the ball, and he can shoot the 3. He gave us a big spark, no question. We needed Brant to play well today, and he did.”
Etherington hit a layup and a 3-pointer, and he completed an and-1 to help guide Minico into position, but it was a Rylan Chandler layup that tied the game at 34 late in the third. By the end of the period, Twin Falls was clinging to a 38-37 lead.
Ball started the fourth with back-to-back buckets, and the Bruins once again built a cushion, albeit one that was far from comfortable.
With time winding down, Minico senior Regan Povlsen hit a 3 that to make it a one-possession game, but Twin Falls iced it away from the free-throw line.
Etherington led the Spartans with 18 points. Poulsen pitched in nine, while Matsen and Chandler added eight apiece.
Although the season is over, Shippen is looking toward the future.
“Twin Falls has a lot of guys coming back, and so do we,” he said. “There are a lot of lessons taken from tonight. In that locker room there are a lot of guys who really wanted that win and that opportunity to punch their ticket. It’s going to motivate them. We were that close. It will motivate them to work hard for it next year.”
Twin Falls was led by Ball’s 15 points. Ystueta finished with 13, Brizee added nine and Duggan had eight.
With its state bid clinched, the Bruins will head to Burley on Thursday for another shot at the Bobcats. They would have to beat Burley twice for the district title.
“When we play well, it’s because we were mentally prepared to,” Ball said. “We are tough and we are getting ready for it.”
Twin Falls 53, Minico 50
Minico 10 12 15 13 — 50
Twin Falls 12 16 10 15 — 53
MINICO (50) — Regan Povlsen 9, Kasen Carpenter 5, Jonathan Brumley 2, Kobe Matsen 8, Rylan Chandler 8, Brant Etherington 18.
TWIN FALLS (53) — Winston Duggan 8, Drew Meyerhoeffer 3, Faust Ystueta 13, Gage Blew 1, Ryan Ball 15, Hudson Klundt 4, Mitchell Brizee 9.