SHOSHONE — The battle of the two top teams in the Sawtooth Conference was never going to be easy for either side.
No. 1-seed Carey took on No. 2-seed Murtaugh in a battle for the district title on Wednesday, and, although there was a slight disparity in records entering the matchup, the game itself proved that, in the postseason, all that goes out the window.
In fact, Murtaugh, which lost to Carey, 52-28, on Jan. 8, more than carried its weight in the game, taking the one-loss Panthers to overtime. However, it was the Panthers who would prevail in that extra frame, defeating Murtaugh, 34-31, to claim their second district crown in the last three years.
“This team has just been a team that’s like, ‘we’re not gonna lose,’” Carey head coach Merrilee Sears said. “They said that multiple times in timeouts. No matter what happens, they weren’t gonna lose.”
The first quarter of the game gave both teams plenty to build off on defense, but the offensive side of play was lacking for Murtaugh (15-9) and Carey (19-1) both.
The Panthers scored their first field goal of the contest after more than five minutes had been played, and that was enough to take the lead, as Murtaugh didn’t hit a shot from the field until 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Each side was forcing turnovers and playing strong enough defense to induce missed shots, but neither team could turn its defense into offense.
Both teams sprung to life a bit more in the second quarter, trading baskets the whole way through, as neither Carey, nor Murtaugh, could establish any edge.
Carey senior Kodi Green finished at the buzzer to tie things up at 15-15, and the teams entered the break all even.
To open the second half, Murtaugh scored four straight points, and Carey came right back with four of its own.
The game never got more than five points away from either side, as Murtaugh senior Lisa Ambriz scored to give the Red Devils a 29-25 advantage entering the final quarter.
Carey didn’t allow a Murtaugh point in the fourth quarter, but only managed four of its own, tying the game when sophomore Kylie Wood made a layup with two minutes left.
Neither team could get just one more point in the dying stages, as the Panthers missed an opportunity at the buzzer and the title game went to overtime.
In the overtime period, the scoring remained low, as each team only managed two points by the final minute. In the end, two trips to the line proved vital for Carey.
Wood stepped up and hit three shots from the charity stripe to give Carey a cushion. Murtaugh had 10 seconds to try and prolong the game, but the final shot wouldn’t fall.
For Wood, Carey’s sharpshooter and top scorer, it’s been a trying few games, as her shots haven’t always been falling. However, Sears commended the sophomore on persevering and fighting, battling for her team and coming up in the clutch on Wednesday.
“That girl is in a ton of pain and she just fights through things,” Sears said. “She’s never one to hang her head. We’re not gonna not let her shoot the ball either. We win because of Kylie’s determination, and our seniors’ determination.”
Wood led all scorers with 12 points on the night, while Murtaugh junior Leslye Tapia led the Red Devils with 10.
Murtaugh will now go head-to-head with Dietrich on Thursday, as the two teams will battle for the guaranteed spot at the state tournament, while the loser will head to a play-in game.
Carey, which lost last year’s district title game to Dietrich, got back to the top of the Sawtooth Conference and already knows it will face Rockland in the first round of the state tournament.
“Anything can happen at state,” Sears said. “State takes a lot of hard work and a lot of luck. Let the ball bounce your way, and good things can happen.”