The Rocky Mountain High boys basketball team lost five seniors from last year’s 5A state championship team that won 26 games in a row and finished unbeaten against Idaho schools.
The outcome of Friday’s 5A District Three Tournament championship game remained unaffected by that roster turnover.
The Grizzlies won their third district title in four seasons with a 51-41 victory against Mountain View at Rocky Mountain High.
“This team, it’s different but it’s awesome,” Rocky Mountain coach Dane Roy said. “We have five guys out on that floor all the time who are working with each other. Our chemistry has really gotten really good over these last few weeks.
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“I feel like we’re peaking at the right time, and they’re real hungry to get (a state title) on their own this year.”
Rocky Mountain (21-3) begins its state title defense at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. The Grizzlies face the winner of Saturday’s play-in game between Lake City and Boise. Mountain View (15-8), Borah (20-3) and Centennial (11-14) also qualified for state.
No. 9 Centennial upset top-seeded Boise in the first round of the district tournament, creating a logjam of the 5A Southern Idaho Conference’s best teams on the same side of the state bracket.
“We’ve got our top three teams in the district on the same side, and Post Falls is lurking around there, and Madison is playing awesome, and they’re on the top (bracket) too,” Roy said. “It’s going to be an absolute battle this year for sure.”
Senior captains Tyler O’Donnell and Hunter Ranstrom — the only two returning starters for the Grizzlies — each made three 3-pointers to lead Rocky Mountain to its second win over Mountain View this season.
O’Donnell finished with a game-leading 19 points, and Ranstrom was three rebounds short of a triple-double with 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
“Last year it felt like everyone expected us to win. This year I feel like things aren’t as handed to us,” O’Donnell said. “We really have to go get it more and things aren’t as easy. It puts more pressure on us.”
While Rocky’s run to last year’s state championship leaned heavily on the dominance of 6-foot-10 BYU signee Kolby Lee and a barrage of strong 3-point threats, players say the 2017-18 squad has a more balanced feel.
“This year, you don’t know who’s going to be on on what night,” Ranstrom said. “It could be me. It could be Tyler. It could be Briggs (Ranstrom) or anyone. It makes us a lot more versatile. We can come at you from any direction.”
Briggs Ranstrom, Hunter’s younger brother, fouled out of the district championship game with 4:25 on the clock in the fourth quarter. Mountain View was on a 5-0 run to pull within 40-34 when Briggs fouled out.
It looked like the Mavericks might have a chance at winning their first district title since 2007, but the Grizzlies wouldn’t allow it.
O’Donnell responded with a pair of made free throws, and Hunter Ranstrom put the Grizzlies’ lead back to double digits with a 3-pointer to end the threat.
Jalen Galloway, a College of Idaho commit, paced the Mavericks with 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
“This is a good group of guys. We’ve all worked really hard,” Hunter Ranstrom said. “I just think it could be a fun year for us. We’re excited to go to the state tournament and maybe turn some heads a little bit and see what we can get going.”