MURTAUGH — Three times before, the Raft River and Valley High School girls basketball teams had met this season.
Three times, Valley had won those battles.
In the fourth installment of the conference tilt, coming in a district tournament second-place game that determined which team would snatch a spot in a state play-in game, Raft River had to overcome a team that had defeated it three times in the span of three months, once just one week ago.
And the Trojans did it.
Raft River only trailed Valley once in Murtaugh on Thursday, and defeated the Vikings, 41-34, to earn a spot in that play-in game against Genesee.
“We told our girls from the start that we wanted them to fight for this,” Raft River head coach Cody Powers said. “We told them not to take it for granted, because there’s a lot of teams that wish they’re in the position we’re in right now. We’ve got to fight for everything, and that’s what they did tonight.”
The early parts of the contest briefly favored Raft River (12-12), but the Vikings (12-11), who trailed, 5-0, right out of the gates, fought back, and tied the contest twice in the first quarter, before the Trojans took a 12-9 lead into the next period.
Not much changed in that frame, as Raft River led by as much as six, but, again, Valley was equal to the task, and tied the game up with 1:26 to go before halftime, before Raft River edged ahead to take a 20-19 advantage into the break.
Powers credited Valley head coach Jamie Kohtz and the Vikings for not allowing the Trojans to really pull away in the game, despite some runs that had them on the precipice of doing so.
“They played a heck of a game,” Powers said. “It was tough, and they’re always gonna make it tough.”
The Vikings continued to play tough out of halftime, taking their first and only lead one minute into the third quarter, after a bucket by senior Broganne Mangum.
However, it was as good as it would get for Valley.
When Raft River junior Kamri Ottley hit two free throws a few seconds after the Mangum basket, it provided the Trojans with a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Raft River pulled away on an 8-3 run to end the third quarter and took a seven-point lead into the final frame. In that period, the Trojans led by as much as 11, but as Valley began to close the gap slightly, a possible momentum-shifter took place with just over a minute to go.
Powers was assessed a technical foul, after which, Valley senior Katie Johnson hit two free throws, then sophomore Makenna Kohtz drained a jump shot, and, suddenly, the Vikings only trailed by three points with 32 seconds to go.
However, Raft River made four straight free throws after that, and Valley was unable to score again, so Powers’ mistake did not prove fatal to the Trojans’ state tournament hopes.
“There’s always that little bit of doubt that sinks in your mind, like, ‘crap, this is on me,’” Powers said. “I’m glad the girls fought through all that and it ended up not biting me in the butt.”
Raft River sophomore Braylee Heaton led all scorers with 12 points, while Ottley and freshman Macie Larsen added 10 apiece.Valley was led by sophomore Bailey Stephens’ eight points, while Johnson, Mangum and junior Mackenzie Dimond all had six.
Powers, who took the team over after it last made the state tournament in 2015, said it’s been a long rebuild to get back to this point, where the Trojans were one win away from joining the rest of the teams in the bracket.
He imagined their game against Genesee would be a tough one, but said that, as long as his team played with the fire it had on Thursday, he felt confident they could get the job done.
That same confidence was a huge part in what helped the Trojans finally get the win they needed on their fourth try against the Vikings.
“It just happened to be our night tonight,” Powers said. “We’ll take it.”
Update: The Trojans lost, 57-28, to Genesee in Saturday’s play-in game.