MERIDIAN — The Carey Panthers and Tri-Valley Titans have a history this year of tight finishes.
In football, Carey won the state championship game against Tri-Valley by eight points. On Friday, the Panthers followed it up in boys basketball by beating the Titans 48-46 to advance to 1A Division II state title game for the first time since 2015, when they won it all.
Carey had the upper hand for the first half of Friday’s game, helped by Hayden Wayment’s explosive first quarter from long range. Wayment netted four consecutive 3-pointers to lead the Panthers to 18 points in the quarter.
“My teammates were hitting me in my stride,” Wayment said. “I’m a catch-and-shoot kind of guy, and that’s what I was doing.”
Panthers head coach Dick Simpson said he’d been trying to put as much confidence in Wayment and guard Houston Hennefer, who hit two 3-pointers in the game, to take those long shots when they felt they had the opportunity.
“I’ve never told my kids to not shoot the ball,” Simpson said, “even from way out, because Houston and (Hayden) have some range.”
“We’ve been shooting half-court shots in practice all year long, and I’d say we make close to 40 percent of them,” Wayment said.
Those early 3-pointers helped in the long run, as Tri-Valley made a second-half comeback while Carey struggled with its free-throws (7-for-15) and mid-range jumpers. Titans guard Orion Stimpson made it especially difficult on the Panthers, scoring a game-high 29 points with 16 in the second half.
But in the fourth quarter, Carey got enough stops, hit a few easy layups and used the bonus to its advantage. Tri-Valley had a final inbounds play with 2.3 seconds on the clock to tie or win, but Tanner Mecham corralled the pass off a deflection, and Carey held on for the victory.
Carey’s state championship opponent will likely be the biggest test this year: the defending champion Genesis Prep Jaguars.
The No. 2-ranked Jaguars knocked off No. 1 Dietrich, which defeated Carey in a couple close games this season, 68-59 in the semifinals.
Simpson said he knows his team will head in as the underdog, but he knows there are ways to get after the Jaguars and search for an edge.
“We really feel like there’s no one we can’t hang with,” he said. “They have some big bodies that we’ll have to box out and try to work against, but we’re a good team.”