TWIN FALLS — With the Buhl High School girls basketball team one win away from a second consecutive district title, and Filer needing two wins to claim the crown as its own, the Wildcats had a different outlook on the contest.
Instead of considering it the championship game it was advertised, it was just another game to them, albeit, one that would determine if the Wildcats would have another shot at the top seed out of the Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference at the state tournament, or if they’d have to head to Pocatello for a play-in game.
That philosophy seemed to relieve any possible tension or jitters that might accompany a championship game, as the Wildcats never trailed the Indians, forcing a winner-take-all championship replay with a 55-42 victory.
“We just didn’t want this to be a championship game, just an opportunity for one more day,” Filer head coach Mike Amaya said. “That’s all we wanted, just one more day.”
Filer (11-11) wasn’t messing around from the get-go, as junior Kori Gartner uncorked a 3-pointer 38 seconds into the contest, giving the Wildcats that lead they would never let go of.
More than halfway through the opening quarter, Filer junior Sophie Bartholomew knocked down a triple, and sophomore Ella Fischer scored with 48 seconds to go, giving Filer a minimal output of eight points in that first frame. However, both offenses were slow to start, as Buhl (9-14) only had four points, all of which were scored by senior Emily Gorrell.
The game opened up in the second quarter, though, and while Filer made runs to pull away from Buhl, the Indians never let it get too far out of their reach. Twice in the frame, Buhl pulled within one point of Filer, but couldn’t quite push past the Wildcats, who, thanks to a layup by junior Kelsie Snyder just shy of the buzzer, held a 25-20 advantage at the break.
“We’ve got to give Filer a lot of credit,” Buhl head coach Dan Hill said. “They came out, got rebounds and shot spectacularly in that first half.”
Amaya said the main thing his team had to deal with was a patient, methodical Buhl style of play. The Indians weren’t panicking, having trailed by as much as seven points early, and the Wildcats wanted to make sure they did everything in their power to hold on.
They did just that.
Filer was able to outscore Buhl, 12-10, in the third quarter, then, when the Indians had the chance to strike in the fourth, the Wildcats ran away with it.
“Our game last night, our intensity started in the beginning,” Amaya said. “This game, we got it toward the end. They were able to pick it up a bit.”
With three minutes to go, Filer’s lead was five points. With one minute to go, it was 11 points, as the Wildcats made their free throws, got some stops on the defensive end and didn’t let up.
As time wound down, a layup made through contact by Filer freshman Alexis Monson put her team up by 4, and the subsequent free throw made it 15 points, Filer’s largest lead all night. Buhl made one more bucket with seconds to go, but the game had already been decided.
Hill said there was an expectation that Filer might cool down after the first half, but the Wildcats continued to make their shots, and Buhl wasn’t able to keep up.
Filer was led by a balanced scoring attack, with Fischer notching 12 points, Bartholomew scoring 10, Gartner adding nine and Monson chipping in eight. Buhl was led by Gorrell, who Amaya said was crafty and often got the best of the Wildcat defense. She had 22 points, while junior Kayla Morse added 10.
The Indians will now have another chance to repeat as district champions. They’ve already beaten Filer, 42-34, in this tournament, and topped the Wildcats twice last season to win the title.
Hill and his squad won’t quite rush to judgment on how to get the best of Filer one more time ahead of Thursday’s rematch.
“There’s always something we can do,” Hill said. “We’ll have to watch some film.”
Amaya admitted that nerves could be a factor in Thursday’s replay, but is looking forward to that “one more day” that was Filer’s goal all along.
“We don’t want to make it to state through eastern Idaho,” Amaya said. “We want to stay in the Magic Valley to do that. [The final is] going to be a good game.”