SHOSHONE — As basketball games so often are, Saturday’s Sawtooth Conference semifinal between the girls basketball teams of Carey and Dietrich High School, it was a game of runs.
At one point, it looked as though Carey would coast to victory. At another, it looked like Dietrich, on the comeback trail, would never miss. And, at the end of the four quarters, the scoreline was even on both sides.
When the extra period of basketball concluded, it was the Panthers who held off a ferocious Blue Devil comeback effort to win, 46-40, and advanced to the district championship game.
For the Panthers, although head coach Merrilee Sears said it probably wasn’t the game they wanted to face the Blue Devils in, given Dietrich is a team that’s certainly good enough to reach the finals, it was a good win over a fierce rival.
“We know them and they know us,” Sears said. “You play each other for so many years. Our girls can remember, going back to rec ball, who beat who. It’s a very intense rivalry.”
After Carey’s tournament-opening win over Castleford on Friday, Sears said she emphasizes defense with her team. That was evident early on, but from both sides.
A defensive battle showed little edge toward either side, as the first quarter ended with Carey (18-1) holding a slight 10-7 advantage. The second quarter, though, was where Carey practiced what Sears has been preaching.
The Panthers outscored Dietrich (16-5), 10-2, in the quarter, holding the Blue Devils without a single field goal in the frame. In fact, Dietrich went scoreless for two large chunks of the period, for about three-and-a-half minutes in different parts of the quarter.
“My girls just wanted to play defense,” Sears said. “They knew if they played defense, we’d win.”
Carey led, 20-9, at halftime, and looked poised to really run away with the semifinal contest. But, Dietrich would have none of that.
A little over a minute into the third quarter, Dietrich senior Matigan Bingham knocked down a 3-pointer. A couple minutes later, senior Brianna Astle drained a triple, then Bingham hit another just 25 seconds later.
Shortly after that, in the span of 30 seconds, senior Madison Christiansen hit back-to-back 3-pointers and, suddenly, Carey’s lead was merely 26-24 with two minutes to play in the third quarter.
“In the first half, we lacked a lot of energy and came out flat,” Dietrich head coach Acey Shaw said. “In the second half, we had a lot of energy and played a lot better.”
From there, it was anybody’s game. Carey managed to stretch its lead to six early in the fourth quarter, but Dietrich continued to hang around, usually down by just one or two scores.
Then, 30 seconds after hitting a free throw to bring Dietrich to within three points of Carey, Bingham hit yet another triple, this time to tie the game at 36-36 with a minute to go. The senior had picked up her fourth foul about halfway through the third quarter, but was disciplined enough to remain in the game long enough to nail a key shot for the Blue Devils.
Bingham got one more look before the buzzer, but her shot was blocked, and Carey couldn’t get one off before time expired on regulation and the teams, deadlocked at 36-all, turned to overtime.
Frustratingly for Dietrich, Bingham was finally handed her fifth foul with 3:21 remaining in overtime. Shaw said he had faith in his team, but, when Bingham had to exit the game, it does leave a big hole normally filled by the standout senior.
“The girls came in and worked hard, but it would have been a different outcome if Matigan was on the floor,” Shaw said.
As a result of the foul, Carey senior Athana Versis made two free throws, putting the Panthers up by two points. They wouldn’t trail again.
Versis nailed a 3-pointer less than a minute later, which, although there was time left, proved the final nail in Dietrich’s coffin.
“That was the first three Athana hit the whole game and she had lots of shots,” Sears said. “She’s a great shooter and she hit it at the right time.”
The Blue Devils weren’t able to score again, as Carey managed to see out the victory and punch a ticket to the conference title game.
The Panthers were led by senior Kodi Green’s 12 points, while senior Lindsey Morey had eight and Versis added seven. Bingham led the Blue Devils with 14 points, and junior Caylee Dillworth had eight, while Astle scored seven.
Dietrich will turn to the consolation bracket, where it will take on Camas County. Shaw firmly believes his team has plenty more to play for this season.
“They’ve just gotta go one game at a time,” Shaw said. “We’ve got to play our hardest and we’ll come out winners no matter what happens.”
The Panthers, meanwhile, maintain their one-loss record and will look toward facing Murtaugh in the championship game.
The mantra for Carey, despite the stakes of the game, remains the same.
“Survive and advance,” Sears said. “No matter who wins, that’s who you’ve got to play. I’m just a big believer in what we’re doing.”