With a limited capacity crowd at Mountain View High School and two District 6 rivals facing off for the sixth time this season, Thursday felt like an odd way to start the 4A state girls’ basketball tournament.
But once the ball went up, play on the floor had its usual playoff intensity. And thanks to 20 points from junior forward Kianna Wright, 17 rebounds from Hadley Humphreys and a stifling all-around defensive effort, Blackfoot emerged with a 48-40 win over Skyline.
“We came to fight,” Wright said. “We really wanted it, and we’re so excited to get this win at state. Hopefully, we can keep it going all the way to the ‘ship.”
Isabelle Arave added 10 points for Blackfoot (19-6), which avenged a loss in last week’s district title rubber match. The Broncos advance to play the winner of Burley and Middleton in a 7 p.m. semifinal Friday at Mountain View.
“When you play a team six times, you know each other really well,” Blackfoot coach Raimee Odum said. “We had a game plan, but at this point, it really just comes down to both teams digging deep. And tonight, our defense was huge.”
Blackfoot started fast, scoring in transition and swarming Skyline shooters, especially standout guard Mattie Olson. When Praire Caldwell hit a runner to make it 16-6 at the first quarter buzzer, the Broncos had seized momentum — and a lead they would never relinquish.
“I think the way we shot the ball early, we really had a hill to climb,” Skyline coach Ty Keck said. “It’s our first time at the state tournament, and we definitely had some nerves. We played hard and made a few runs to try and climb out of it, but we couldn’t quite finish.”
With Skyline struggling to find an offensive rhythm, Blackfoot continued to make things tough. Arave hounded Olson at every turn, while Wright carried the scoring load on 9-for-13 shooting, doing most of her damage in the paint. And Humphreys grabbed every loose ball in her vicinity, helping the Broncos to a 36-20 edge on the glass.
“Skyline knows us so well, they do a good job of trying to take away Hadley,” Odum said. “I thought our girls made good decisions throughout the game. Hadley made good reads and Kianna made good cuts off her to take advantage of that.”
Skyline (17-8) cut the deficit to seven twice in the second half, but could get no closer, losing for just the second time in 13 games. Olson led the Grizzlies with 13 points and four steals, while Sophia Anderson added 12 points and seven rebounds. Skyline shot 35% overall and only attempted five free throws, well below its season average. The Grizzlies play the loser of Burley and Middleton at 2 p.m. Friday in the consolation bracket.
“This was a big step for our program,” Keck said. “Hopefully, we learn from it and come back again next year knowing what to expect and what it takes to win.”
The District 6/High Country Conference boys’ basketball tournament began on Tuesday night, but it didn’t start off the way the Blackfoot Broncos had expected it to.
Entertaining the Skyline Grizzlies as the number three seed, it was the fourth-seeded Grizzlies who sprang the upset on the night, and squeezed out a 53-51 win to put the Broncos into the elimination side of the bracket in the first round of play.
The game started out with a flurry of three-point baskets from both teams, the Grizzlies getting a pair of long balls from senior Raleigh Shippen and the Broncos getting one each from Jace Grimmett and Candon Dahle and the score was 6-6 in the early going. The difference was that Shippen was only just getting warmed up.
Shippen added another basket plus a free throw to tally nine, then it was 11, then 13 and before you knew it, he had scored all 14 of the Grizzlies points in the quarter and yet, Blackfoot still had a lead at the end of the first eight minutes of play, 15-14, but they were already shifting their defense to try and cover Shippen.
The Grizzlies still had a surprise up their sleeve and it was in the form of a 6’7” post player named Landon Merzlock and all he did on the night was set up in the middle of the defense and force the Broncos to alter their shots and avoid the lane when driving.
Merzlock played defense, got the needed rebounds, found a way to score eight points and made some blocks of Blackfoot shots that would have changed the outcome of the game.
“We started Landon to get some additional senior leadership and he gave us that,” Skyline coach Clint Cornish said. “We had been starting Kenyon Sadiq, a sophomore, and he had played well, we just wanted that senior leadership on the floor and Landon sure gave us that. He also had some MVP type blocks on drives that were a real difference maker.”
As the two teams worked their way through the second quarter, fouls were beginning to catch up with the Broncos and by halftime, both Carter Layton and Ja’Vonte King had three fouls and were headed to the bench, while the Grizzlies were feeding Shippen who would have 18 points by the intermission and the teams headed for a few minutes’ break.
The score at the time was 27-25 in favor of Skyline and things were just getting interesting.
When the third quarter began, you could feel the momentum was with Skyline, but even so, they couldn’t seem to distance themselves from the Broncos who stayed within striking distance.
The Grizzlies did manage to build a seven-point lead a couple of times, but when they did, the Broncos seemed to strike back. Once on back-to-back three-point shots from Jaden Harris who closed the game to a one-point margin and forced a Skyline timeout.
The Broncos, to their credit, were pulling out all stops in an effort to win the game, even inserting a freshman off the JV team in Deegan Hale, who played several minutes of very good defense and gave the fans a glimpse of what the future may hold for Blackfoot.
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