It was the closest margin of victory this season for the Eagle High girls basketball team, so when head coach Cody Pickett turned to assistant Ron Fortner for a handshake, Fortner instead pulled Pickett in for a hug and rowdy pat on the back.
Nearly two decades earlier, Fortner and Pickett teamed up as coach and player at Caldwell High. Pickett’s senior season ended with an overtime loss to Idaho Falls in the 1999 state championship game.
But after Eagle’s 57-54 victory over Post Falls in the 5A state semifinals Friday, Pickett and Fortner will get another try together at a state championship.
“This is just a special year, and hopefully we can get one more,” Pickett said.
Eagle’s 16-game winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy midway through the fourth quarter. Starters Katelyn Murray and Cassidy Tiegs were each on the floor with four fouls, and the Trojans remained on the attack.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘This is my senior year. This is my last chance to accomplish something that has never been done at Eagle High,’” senior Abby Mangum said. “We’re down right now, and the only way to come back is if the seniors put in some leadership and just go to the hole.”
Mangum followed through on her instincts, slashing her way to the basket for a layup off the glass and a 52-51 lead with 4:05 on the clock.
A Bayley Brennan 3-pointer put Post Falls back in front 54-52 with less than 2 minutes to play, and Mangum took the same path to the hoop from the left elbow, this time sinking the basket and drawing a foul.
She swished the free throw for a one-point Eagle lead.
“I had nothing to lose, honestly, so I just went for it,” Mangum said.
The Mustangs kept the Trojans from scoring on the other end and then looked to dribble out the remaining time. Unable to force a turnover, Post Falls fouled sophomore Meghan Boyd to stop the clock.
Boyd expertly sank both free throws, giving Eagle a three-point cushion.
“We just never give up,” Mangum said. “This is crucial for us. This is something that we really want and have wanted since Day One.”
Post Falls’ 3-point attempt came up short after calling a timeout with 5.3 seconds left, and Eagle’s Jaimee McKinnie corralled the rebound to preserve the victory.
EAGLE 57, POST FALLS 54
Eagle (25-1) — Abby Mangum 12 points, Janie King 9, McKenna Emerson 9, Cassidy Tiegs 11, Meghan Boyd 8, Jaimee McKinnie 2, Katelyn Murray 6. Rebound leaders: King, Murray 6. Assist leader: Boyd 3.
Post Falls (20-3) — Jenna Gardiner 3 points, Bayley Brennan 11, Tyler McCliment-Call 6, Jacksen McCliment-Call 6, Melody Kempton 18, Sydney Parks 10. Rebound leader: Kempton 12. Assist leader: T. McCliment-Call 3.