Idaho’s 5A boys basketball championship game pits a pair of teams against each other with vastly different pedigrees.
Defending state champ and perennial power Rocky Mountain (23-3) survived a buzzer-beater to return to the finals at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
On the other side of the court is Hillcrest (21-5), which upset heavily favored Post Falls and never had qualified for a state championship game in any classification since opening in 1992-93.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN 49, BORAH 48
Borah junior point guard Ellis Magnuson had his way with Rocky Mountain and Hunter Ranstrom all night, racking up 20 points and four dazzling assists.
But when Borah called a timeout in the front court down one with 11.1 seconds left, Ranstrom made it clear: Magnuson was all his.
Magnuson and Rocky Mountain’s 6-3 senior guard lined up at the top of the key with the clock winding down. Magnuson shook right and crossed over Ranstrom to the left. But Ranstrom recovered just enough to pressure Magnuson’s shot, which hit both the front and back ends of the rim before falling to the floor at the buzzer.
“The second that ball left his hand, I thought it was good,” Ranstrom admitted. “I watched it go and it felt like time stopped for a second. I watched it bounce around in slow motion and I can’t believe it didn’t go in.
“I’m still shaking a bit, but I’m thrilled.”
The missed buzzer-beater capped the final chess move in a series of back and forths down the stretch. Brock Denison sank a pair of free throws for Rocky Mountain to give the Grizzlies a one-point lead with 1 minute, 46 seconds left. Neither team could convert down the stretch, and Ranstrom missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw to give Borah the ball and the last shot with 53.5 seconds left.
So when Ranstrom spoke up in the huddle with 11 seconds left, Rocky Mountain coach Dane Roy didn’t hesitate to turn to his top defender.
“He’s got crazy confidence,” Roy said. “In that timeout, we set the two defenses, and he said: ‘I hope they clear out. I want him. I want him. I got him, Coach.’
“That’s all I needed to hear. I could turn my clipboard over to him sometimes. He’s in my mind.”
Magnuson drained several stepback, pull-up jumpers from 18 feet throughout the state semifinal. Borah coach Jeremy Dennis drew up a play to put the ball in his star point guard’s hand and let him create. Dennis said he was happy with the shot selection.
“It looked like it was going down, and it didn’t,” Dennis said. “That’s the game of basketball.
“I wouldn’t trade the shot. It was a good one, and it didn’t fall.”
Ranstrom scored 10 points for Rocky Mountain, while his younger brother, 6-6 sophomore Briggs Ranstrom, led the team with 16 points and five rebounds.
“He’s so big and so athletic, so it’s hard to put a big on him and it’s hard to put a guard on him,” Hunter Ranstrom said. “He’s going to make you pay either way.”
HILLCREST 65, POST FALLS 61
Hillcrest of Idaho Falls entered the tournament with little to no expectations. The Knights were 4-3 in their past seven games, qualified for state for the first time in eight years and were making their first appearance at the 5A tournament.
But Hillcrest rode its balanced scoring, tight defense and a 9-0 fourth-quarter run to knock off North Idaho power Post Falls and punch its ticket to the first championship game in program history.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Hillcrest coach Dave Austin said. “We’ve had some good teams in the past and to finally get over that hump and be able to play in that championship game, it means a lot to the school, the coaches and, most of all, to the players.”
Four Hillcrest players finished in double figures. Derek Marlowe scored 17 points, Jaxon Weatherly 12, Parker Boyle 11 and Trey Johnson 10. The same four reached double figures in the Knights’ opening-round win over Mountain View.
Post Falls’ Jacob Pfennigs racked up game highs in points (23) and rebounds (11), and sophomore Colby Gennett added 20 for the Trojans (19-6), who face Borah in the third-place game at noon Saturday at Columbia.