As her teammates carried on the celebration at center court without her, Tori Williams ran into the stands to find her mom, Kari Smith. The two shared a long hug before a teary-eyed Williams made her way back to her teammates.
A year after losing in the state championship, Williams and the Centennial High girls basketball team took down top-ranked Eagle 40-37 in the 5A title game Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center.
It was the Patriots’ first win over the Mustangs in four tries this season.
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“We didn’t want that feeling we had last year of watching the other team celebrate and hearing them cheer and seeing them in the newspaper,” Williams said. “I told them it was 32 minutes to fight your heart out. Get every loose ball, get every rebound, and they did it. I love all of them for that.”
As the 99th-ranked player nationally for the 2017 class, Williams was at the center of every opponent’s game plan this season.
The constant attention ended up creating opportunities for her teammates.
“Honestly, it was my team. They’re the ones that won this,” Williams said. “It wasn’t just me. It was all of them. Everyone who set foot on this court helped us win this game, and it was the biggest game of our lives.”
Williams and senior teammates Lauren Brocke and Ayana Amaechi started for the Patriots the past four seasons. They missed out on a state berth as freshmen, lost in the first round as sophomores and took home the second-place trophy last year.
“How many times have we come close as a team? From Tori, Lauren and I starting as freshmen. It’s just become this huge ladder that we’ve climbed,” Amaechi said. “We’ve gotten our way to the top, and it was worth it.”
Williams, a Utah signee and the 5A Southern Idaho Conference scoring leader, finished with a game-high 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, never leaving the court in the championship game. Brocke added a pair of 3s for six points, and the 5-foot-4 Amaechi fought off taller opponents for five rebounds and four points.
“Those seniors are so special, just their desire and will,” Centennial coach Candace Thornton said. “They’re in the gym all the time. They’re my leaders.”
Eagle entered Saturday’s championship on a 17-game winning streak, averaging a classification-best 64.2 points per game. After losing by 13 each time to the Mustangs this season, the defensive-minded Patriots knew their best chance was to avoid another high-scoring contest.
“We were a little bit nervous that it was going to be a track meet,” Amaechi said. “But one thing that we’ve always wanted to be known for is defense, and I think that we finally did that tonight.”
The Patriots (23-4) held the Mustangs (25-2) to their lowest point total of the season.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this with this group of girls who I have been playing with for so long,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, so I’m glad we won.”
Eagle was playing in the state championship game for only the second time in program history. The Mustangs’ bid to end their title drought came up painfully short.
Senior Abby Mangum, who will be a preferred walk-on at BYU this fall, made a 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, cutting Centennial’s lead to 38-35.
The Patriots then went into a stall, eventually forcing the Mustangs to foul with 25.5 seconds left.
Williams went to the line for a one-and-one, converting on both free throws for a 40-35 lead.
The Centennial defense withstood several 3-point attempts from the Mustangs, and then gave up an easy layup in the waning seconds before erupting in celebration at halfcourt.
“Losing last year was a huge motivator. That stings,” Thornton said. “They remembered it. They didn’t forget, so they came into this knowing what it was going to feel like, and they didn’t want to feel that again.”