SHOSHONE — Two teams whose seasons traveled on opposite trajectories met at Shoshone High School on Friday afternoon.
Carey, the Sawtooth Conference tournament’s top seed, entered the playoffs with just one loss. Castleford entered with just one win, which the Wolves secured in Thursday’s play-in game against Richfield.
For a moment, the two teams stood on level ground, but, not after long, the Panthers displayed exactly what made them the team to beat in the tournament.
Carey never trailed Castleford, powering its way to a 51-30 victory, claiming a spot in the semifinals.
“We’re happy with it,” Carey head coach Merrilee Sears said. “One game down and we just keep moving on.”
Neither team was able to find a groove in the opening stages, as turnovers, missed shots and numerous fouls and trips to the free throw line overtook the contest. However, Carey was still on the front foot, with Castleford (1-20) not far behind.
The Panthers (17-1) started with a bucket by senior Lindsey Morey, which was quickly answered by Castleford sophomore Aubrey Mahannah. However, that was the last time the Wolves would be even with the Panthers.
Free throws from senior Kodi Green set Carey on a 12-6 spurt to finish the quarter, as the Panthers got even more momentum swung in their favor when senior Athana Versis’ 3-point attempt just before the buzzer went in off the backboard.
Sears said there may have been a few postseason jitters from her team, as are customary no matter what the seeding reads, but those were quickly quieted once Carey got going.
When a Green bucket two minutes into the second put Carey up, 19-10, the Panthers secured their largest lead of the contest. It would never dip below that mark again.
The Panthers ended the half with a 24-14 lead, not far beyond Castleford’s reach, but enough of an advantage to feel comfortable.
After the break, though, was when the Panthers ensured their lead wouldn’t slip. It started with a Morey basket after less than 20 seconds, and ended with a Morey basket with two ticks left on the clock.
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In between those scores, Carey had gone on a 14-5 run.
The final frame was even, as Castleford equaled Carey at 11-11, but enough damage had been done by the Panthers in the opening three quarters.
Versis finished with 12 points and Green added 11, as the Panthers had a balanced scoring effort all around.
“I’ve been a big believer in [balance],” Sears said. “I don’t care who scores. If you make the shots you’re supposed to make, it’s whatever makes our team the most successful.”
Castleford junior Sydney Schoth had 11 and junior Grace Loman added nine points.
The Wolves, who endured a difficult, winless regular season before defeating Richfield in that play-in game, will get at least one more game under their belts, as they’ll take on Hagerman on Saturday.
Head coach Jason Tverdy was proud of the way his team battled, particularly when the game wasn’t totally out of reach in the first half, and is happy with the way the Wolves’ season is ending after its poor start.
“These girls, I love every one of them,” Tverdy said. “They never quit me all year. It’s been a tough season. They’re fighters...We’re gonna come back tomorrow, play our hearts out and hope for the best.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers turn their attention to fifth-seeded Dietrich. The Blue Devils spent much of the season just behind Carey in the conference standings, and are sure to be a stern test.
However, if Carey’s defense comes ready to play, Sears said, the Panthers could be in good shape.
“I don’t care if we let a team score 10 points, I’ll still be mad if we don’t play good defense,” Sears said. “If your defense does its job and limits offensive rebounds, good things will always happen for your team.”