RUPERT — The Burley High School girls basketball team hasn’t quite been able to replicate the season that pushed the Bobcats to the state championship game last season, but, on Thursday night, all signs pointed to the fact that they would give everything they had for a chance to get back there.
The seventh-seeded Bobcats came out on fire against No. 2-seed Minico in the Great Basin Conference tournament opener between the two, but their success was only briefly sustained.
Perhaps awoken by a sloppy start, the Spartans suddenly burst right back into the game, showing why they were the second-best team in the conference this season, and eventually cruising to a 59-42 victory, earning a berth in the district semifinals.
“It’s district time and you’ve got to come to play,” Minico head coach Anna Bateman said. “Once we started going, that’s when we started rolling.”
Burley (5-18) started about as well as the Bobcats could have imagined.
Forcing Minico turnovers with relentless pressure and converting on the offensive end, Burley led, 7-0, within the opening three minutes.
“[Burley] came prepared, ready to play,” Bateman said. “They came ready. That’s what basketball is all about. You’ve got to come ready and hats off to them, they did.”
However, following a Minico timeout, the tide of the game turned rather quickly in the Spartans’ favor.
Back-to-back buckets by junior Bailey Black and senior Claire Boettcher pulled Minico (15-7) to within three, before College of Southern Idaho signee, senior Taylia Stimpson, tied it with a triple.
Burley took a quick 9-7 lead back, but another score by Boettcher provided the final time the teams would be on level pegging. It sparked a quick 7-0 Minico run, and gave the Spartans a cushion to work with for the rest of the half.
The Bobcats certainly didn’t go away, using their physicality to get to the line 16 times in the first half. However, the Spartans maintained their lead, taking a 23-16 advantage into the break.
After the halftime respite, Burley looked to start quickly, scoring about 25 seconds into the frame. However, Minico answered right back in a way that would become a recurring theme for the remainder of the game.
Each time it seemed as if Burley had a path back into the contest, Minico made sure to cut it off.
After a triple from senior Kiera Page pulled the Bobcats to within six points halfway through the third, Minico junior Kylee McManus responded with one of her own. Then, a 3-pointer from sophomore Kelsie Pope a couple minutes later pulled Burley back to within two scores, but McManus answered again.
In fact, McManus hit three triples in a three-minute span, helping to take the Spartan lead to 43-31 at the end of the third quarter, making it the largest advantage of the game.
Twenty-five seconds into the fourth quarter, she hit another, giving Minico a 15-point lead and, although Burley didn’t roll over right then, effectively putting the game to bed.
McManus finished with 12 points, while Stimpson finished with a team-high of 13 points on the night in a balanced scoring effort.
“Having a balanced team and somebody to step up, that’s the thing about this team, any given night, somebody steps up,” Bateman said. “You never know who’s going to be the second, or third [top scorer]. That helps us.”
Burley was led by senior Quinlyn Ontiveros, who scored a game-high of 15 points. Pope finished with 11 for the Bobcats, who will go up against Twin Falls in the consolation bracket, with hopes of keeping their season alive and claiming the district’s third spot at the state tournament.
Minico, meanwhile, advanced to the semis, where they defeated No. 3-seed Mountain Home, earning a berth in the district title game and a spot at the state tournament.
The ultimate goal was to get to state, but the Spartans are, by no means, looking too far ahead.
“You just got to go one game at a time and win and advance,” Bateman said. “You can’t get too crazy. The game ahead of us is the most important game and that’s where we’re at.”