After a four-year hiatus, Middleton reclaimed its throne.
The Middleton High girls basketball team never trailed after 1-0 Saturday as the Vikings beat Bishop Kelly 57-45 in the 4A state championship at the Ford Idaho Center to win their first state title since 2012, the last of three straight championships.
“In middle school, we looked up to those girls so much,” said senior Sage Huggins, the only Viking to play at the state tournament before this week. “We all dreamed about coming here and winning state. The fact that we did it, it’s huge. It’s all of our dreams come true.”
The title allows the Vikings (21-6) to close the season on a 16-game winning streak. Middleton coach Andy Jones said he tweaked his lineup throughout December until settling on a 10-player rotation that allows the Vikings to sub out five players for five fresh new ones and wear opponents down.
Jones said his players bought into the rotation even though it meant less playing time, and the Vikings haven’t lost in 2017.
“We all know each other and what we can do,” said Middleton freshman Zoey Moore, who watched from the stands as a fourth-grader the last time Middleton won a title. “We communicated very well, and we all pushed each other to be our best.”
Middleton started the game on an 8-1 run, and Bishop Kelly could never dig itself out, only tying it twice in the first quarter.
The Knights (20-8) looked to mount a fourth-quarter run when Theresa Reeping’s 5-foot jumper along the baseline fell and cut the deficit to five with 4:58 left. But junior guard Lydia Nieto, Bishop Kelly’s leading scorer, fouled out 17 seconds later trying to force a trapped Tayler Guerra into a turnover 25 feet from the basket.
Middleton rotated its deep lineup at Nieto, assigning one defender to shadow her around the court with no regard to help defense. Nieto still scored 11 points. But once she left the floor, the Vikings’ lead only grew.
All 10 players in Middleton’s rotation scored, led by sophomore Lexi Mitchell’s 13 points and seven rebounds. Moore added 10 points, all in the second half, after a 29-point performance in the semifinals. And junior Meriah Deugan contributed six points and six rebounds.
“In the past, we had six, seven, sometimes even eight (key players),” Jones said. “To have a roster like this and have everyone come in and contribute — everyone scores, everyone gets a rebound — that’s a really special feeling when you look down the line and know every one of those kids felt like they had something to do with it.”
Reeping racked up 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead Bishop Kelly, which finished second at state for the second year in a row.
The runner-up trophy capped an emotional year for Bishop Kelly coach Derek McCormick, who was diagnosed with leukemia a month after last year’s championship game and beat the cancer into remission without missing a game.
“It’s about the kids,” McCormick deflected. “I told the girls in there, our girls have done more for me as a person than anybody outside of my family has done for me. They have allowed me to heal both mentally and physically. I look forward to going to practice every day and being around them.”
Another title for Middleton’s Jones
Saturday’s championship is the sixth for Middleton coach Andy Jones, who has led the Vikings to all five of their titles and won in 2001 with Caldwell. Only Emery Roy (nine) has won more girls basketball titles in Idaho history.