2A: NEW PLYMOUTH ALIVE ON WILD SHOT
The Boise State football team has Circus - a miracle play that helped win the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The New Plymouth boys have whatever they want to call what happened Friday night.
The play - the ol' miss-the-free-throw-on-purpose-and-bat-the-rebound-to-a-shooter ruse - didn't have a name. It didn't even exist until moments before the Pilgrims executed it to perfection, forcing OT with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and topping Firth 53-48 to advance to the 2A state title game against Grangeville.
"It's the most crazy feeling in the whole world," said senior Hunter Wells, who hit the game-tying shot. "You can't even describe it. It's just awesome."
The Pilgrims trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, 11 at halftime and 10 entering the fourth. They got the ball with 12.7 seconds left, down by four, and needed a near-miracle - something like what they pulled off in the District Three championship game, when they scored five points in the final 1.2 seconds to win by one.
Firth nearly stole the ball to circumvent the heroics, but junior Chase White got it back and launched a desperation 3-pointer. He was fouled with 2.7 seconds left.
White made the first of three free throws and missed the second. Coach Mark Van Weerdhuizen wanted to let him make the third and try to steal the inbounds pass, which is what happened in the district final.
Assistants Willie Lake and Carson White convinced him to try something else. Van Weerdhuizen called timeout before the third free-throw attempt and explained the play suggested by his assistants.
Chase White, the younger brother of the assistant coach, needed to miss the free throw on purpose - something he'd never even tried for fun. He expertly drilled the front of the rim.
Junior Eric Paulsen, lined up along the lane, waited for the rebound. He batted the ball behind him and to his left, where one of two 3-point shooters was supposed to be.
"I was just hoping we'd get a good bounce off the rim," Paulsen said. "I knew we had a good chance of making that shot."
Wells, who began the play lined up behind White, slid to his right to meet the ball. His shot - one of only two 3-pointers the Pilgrims made on 14 attempts - swished through the net.
"I knew I had to let it go," he said. " Oh, it felt good. There's that feeling where you know it's going to go in - and I just felt that."
Said Van Weerdhuizen: "That was exactly what we told them to do. We had never practiced that."
Wells added a three-point play in the opening minute of overtime to help the Pilgrims pull away in the extra period.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398
1A DIVISION II: DUNK SPARKS SALMON RIVER
CALDWELL - Any hope Carey had of advancing to the 1A Division II state championship game disappeared with 3 minutes, 25 seconds to go in the first quarter.
That's when Salmon River junior Leighton Vander Esch, a 6-4 forward, took a fastbreak pass in the open court in stride, then leapt into the air for a two-handed dunk.
Carey's once-noisy crowd fell silent, while the Salmon River half of the gym joined Vander Esch and his teammates in a roar of approval.
"Anytime at this level that you get a dunk like that, it really ignites the fire," Salmon River coach Charlie Shepherd Sr. said. "The crowd gets into it, and the kids feed off of that. It is just a huge momentum swing when you get a dunk like that."
It was smooth sailing for the Savages after that, as they advanced to Saturday's title game with a 65-48 victory.
The Savages (24-1) play Nezperce (17-5) at 9:30 a.m. at the Idaho Center in Nampa with a chance to win the program's first state championship. The Indians are the defending state champions and are trying for their third title in four seasons.
After settling for a consolation title last season, the Savages aren't interested in coming up short again.
"They learned that there's no tomorrow. You can't relax and you can't wait for the next quarter," Shepherd said.
"At this level, if you get too far behind, you'll never catch up."
The 10 players on Salmon River's roster already know what it's like to win it all at the state level. In November, the same players led the Savages to the 1A Division II eight-man football title.
"We know what it takes and we've all grown up," said Vander Esch, who finished with a team-leading 17 points and 14 rebounds. "We're still young, but I guess you could say that we have the mind-set of a veteran."
The Savages start just one senior - Charlie Shepherd Jr. - three juniors and a sophomore.
"The big-game atmosphere is not going to bother us as much as just the pressure of being in the state championship game," Shepherd Sr. said. "But it makes it a little bit easier for us, I think, having already been there and done it once this year already."
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422