Capital boys within reach of rare perfect season

The Eagles eye Idaho’s first undefeated 5A title run since 1994-95.

rroberts@idahostatesman.comMarch 6, 2014 


    Teams that went 20-0 in the regular season since 1959:

    Æ Centennial (1999-00) did not make state (lost twice in district)

    Æ Centennial (1994-95), won state

    Æ Meridian (1986-87), went to state but did not win

    Æ Capital (1977-78), won state

    Æ Capital (1974-75), won state

Centennial High boys basketball coach Tom Aipperspach needed only a few seconds to come up with the score from the 1994-95 5A state championship game between Rigby and his unbeaten Patriots.

“72-69,” he said as his mind drifted back to the game played 19 years and two days ago at Holt Arena in Pocatello.

It was an easy score for him to remember because Aipperspach had watched in horror as Rigby’s Brandon Andrew released a 3-pointer at the buzzer, which turned out to be on line, but just short.

When the ball bounced off the front of the rim, Aipperspach joined in the midcourt celebration with his players, who finished with a 26-0 record and the first state championship in program history.

Idaho hasn’t produced an undefeated 5A champion since.

Nine players from that team went on to compete in the college ranks.

“First of all, they were great kids and an awfully good team. They played with no fear and they knew what they wanted,” Aipperspach said. “... They were unselfish kids, and their goal was to win. They didn’t care how they got it done or who scored. They understood that everybody had a role and they had to fulfill that role in order to be successful.”

Since the birth of the Southern Idaho Conference in 1959, only three local teams have accomplished an undefeated championship season: Capital in 1974-75 and 1977-78, and Centennial.

There have been some near-perfect teams in the years after Centennial’s run — including Borah’s back-to-back 25-1 championship seasons in 2012 and 2013 — but no 5A team has entered the state tournament with an unbeaten record since the Patriots did in 1995.

Until now.

Capital (23-0) has the opportunity to become just the fifth 5A SIC team since 1959 to complete a perfect season. The challenge begins at 3 p.m. Thursday against Timberline (13-10) at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

Clint Hordemann, a starting guard for Centennial’s 1995 team who played at Boise State, knows exactly what the Eagles face.

“They’ve built a formula of playing extremely hard and they just need to go out and continue to do those things that have made them successful, which is play hard defense, impose their will and then execute offensively,” Hordemann said. “Be unselfish. Sometimes people get on this big stage and they think individually this is my chance to shine and make a name for myself, and they end up being a detriment to their team.”

Hordemann and Aipperspach draw similarities between the 1995 Patriots and the 2013-14 Eagles, beginning with a deep bench.

“Kind of like Capital this year, we just had so much depth. We had 12 really good players on that basketball team,” said Hordemann, who scored a game-leading 21 points in the title game against Rigby. “That’s what allowed us to win every game and that’s what made it so fun. There was always somebody that was stepping up, so if somebody was struggling, with that kind of depth, the next guy steps up, and it was just a blast.”

Hordemann doesn’t recall feeling much pressure during his team’s run, just more of an elation as the wins continued to pile up.

“I think the biggest thing when I look back is how much fun it is when you never lose,” Hordemann said. “You get to walk away from every single game with a smile on your face because you won.”

Capital coach Paul Rush can relate.

After the Eagles rallied for a 42-41 victory against Rocky Mountain in the 5A District Three championship game last week, Rush took a moment to reflect with his players.

“I didn’t want to go past that moment and miss letting those kids hear from me and hopefully appreciate a little bit that this was really special,” Rush said. “I didn’t want them to look back and think, ‘Wow, we didn’t even talk about the fact that we just went undefeated and won a district championship.’ ”

But that’s as far as the conversation went.

There wasn’t a speech about finishing undefeated, or the pressure that may or may not be building in the minds of his players.

Rush wants to keep it simple — just as he’s done all season.

“If you’re trying to look at the big picture and think about holding on to all this, it is going to slip. It is going to go away,” Rush said. “That’s why we don’t focus on it. We focus on what we’re doing right now and what’s next and let that stuff take care of itself.”

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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