State basketball roundup: Homedale, Salmon River, Ambrose reach title games

sports@idahostatesman.comMarch 8, 2014 

MERIDIAN — Homedale used a trick usually reserved for warm-ups and blowouts to reach its first state championship game since winning the 2A title in 1969.

Now a 3A member, the second-ranked Trojans (22-2) will face top-ranked Buhl (23-1) at 3:50 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

There, Homedale senior Lane Sale will have an even bigger crowd to thrill. He sent a charge through a raucous Meridian High gym with a third-quarter dunk Friday night that gave the Trojans their first separation from Filer all night. Homedale won the semifinal 38-30.

“That pumped up all our momentum,” said senior Caleb Oviedo, the conference player of the year who scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “That got our hopes high.”

The dunk looked like a follow-up jam, but Sale said it was actually a moment of impeccable chemistry with senior Talon Freelove.

Freelove broke free in transition, took off in the middle of the lane and shot what looked like a too-hard brick off the backboard. Sale, trailing the play, soared onto the scene and dunked.

“He looked me in the eye and we both knew what was going to happen,” said Sale, who contributed nine points and nine boards. “He put it up on the glass perfectly, and I went up there and got it and put the momentum on our side.”

The dunk gave Homedale a 25-21 lead with 4 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter. It was the Trojans’ largest lead to that point and one of only four field goals they made in the second half.

Now they’ll turn their attention to Buhl, which beat Kellogg 49-33 in their semifinal.

The finalists split a pair of meetings last summer in games nothing like they’ll experience Saturday with a championship on the line.

“It’s our dream,” Oviedo said. “It’s been our dream. And we’re living it now.”

AMBROSE, SALMON RIVER IN 1A DIV. II TITLE GAME

CALDWELL — Salmon River senior Leighton Vander Esch unleashed a monster double-double, racking up 29 points and 18 rebounds during a 59-32 state semifinal win over Kendrick at Caldwell High.

Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center, Vander Esch and the Savages will go for a much more difficult double-double — winning back-to-back state championships in football and basketball.

Salmon River of Riggins (22-2) takes on The Ambrose School of Meridian (21-3) at 9:30 a.m. for the 1A Division II title. The game is a rematch of the District Three title game, but this time, history is on the line.

“Winning back-to-back (titles) is a huge goal for us, but it’s not going to be easy,” Vander Esch said. “(Ambrose) has a bone to pick with us from districts, so they’re going to be firing on all cylinders. We’ll have to be firing right back — and more — to get it done.”

Vander Esch, the 6-foot-4 senior who quarterbacked Salmon River to back-to-back football titles, dominated from the outset Friday. He had 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half — including a contested dunk — as the Savages led 32-16.

Junior guard Jimmy Shepherd added 13 points and six assists for Salmon River. The Savages have won their two tournament games by at least 20 points, with Vander Esch averaging 28 points and 14 boards.

“Just being in the position to attempt back-to-back championships in both sports tells you the quality and character of these kids,” said Salmon River coach Charlie Shepherd, who also coaches football. “The mental toughness it takes to not have a letdown is pretty impressive.”

Salmon River’s title challenger is state newcomer Ambrose, which pulled away for a 59-44 victory over Summit Academy on Friday.

Ambrose is powered by the unlikeliest of duos — 6-foot-7 sophomore Travis Yenor and 5-foot-4 freshman Jaxon Hughes.

The two create an almost comical juxtaposition on the floor, but there’s nothing funny about the results. Yenor — sporting a padded concussion helmet — had 28 points and 13 rebounds Friday, his second double-double in as many games.

The diminutive Hughes — averaging an impressive 14 points at state — ran the offense efficiently and hit clutch free throws, finishing with nine points.

“They’re only a year apart, but their about a foot-and-a-half apart,” Ambrose coach Ken Hosier said. “They really play well off of each other. Even though they are both young, they play with poise, and they know how and when to turn it up a notch.”

The Archers dialed it up during crunch time, outscoring Summit Academy 25-13 in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a runaway.

“We played hard and had a good team effort. It was a lot of fun,” Yenor said. “We’ve played two big games in less than 24 hours, so we’ve got to rest up and get ready to go out (Saturday) and get it.”

OTHER TITLE GAMES

1A DIVISION I: Prairie and Challis face off at 11:30 a.m. at the Ford Idaho Center. Prairie won the title in 2010.

2A: Declo and Firth will battle at 1:40 p.m. at the Ford Idaho Center. Firth won four straight titles from 2007 to 2010. Declo is looking for its first championship since 2003, when the Hornets played at the 3A level.

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