Caldwell’s Julia Martinez hits game-winning 3 for state title berth
It took a few minutes for Julia Martinez to fully grasp what she had just accomplished.
After the final buzzer Friday night, the Caldwell High senior guard had been hugged or high-fived by dozens of fans and teammates, celebrating the sort of shot a player dreams about.
“Oh my god, I made that shot,” Martinez said as she made her way off the floor, eyes wide as can be.
Martinez hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds left to give the Cougars a 58-56 win over the Minico Spartans at Timberline High. The shot also secured a spot in Saturday’s 4A state championship game at 6 p.m. at the Ford Idaho Center.
“All year, I’ve been saying, ‘Give me the ball. I want to keep shooting,’ and all those times just led up to this one,” Martinez said. “… It was so crazy. I’ve had off games, been not confident in myself, but that made up for all of it.”
Not only was it the perfect moment for Martinez, it was the perfect play for Caldwell (21-5).
Top scorer Jalen Callender had the ball following a Minico turnover and attacked the basket, drawing four Spartan defenders. She kicked out to the 5-foot-3 Martinez, wide open in the corner.
Release. Rotation. Splash.
“This is (Martinez’s) bread and butter. And we know when we are in big games, they’re going to focus on Jalen, and Jalen knows where Julia is at all times — she can find her like no other,” Caldwell coach Ashley Green said.
Caldwell is in a state championship game for the first time since 2001, which also was the last time the Cougars had even won a game at state. In their way of a title is undefeated Century, which will have a massive size advantage.
“It’s great that we won this game, but now it’s onto the next one. We’ve got to worry about beating Century, and they’re an amazing team,” Callender said.
Underestimate the Cougars at your own risk, however. Only seven weeks earlier, they beat Minico by 27 on the same floor at a holiday tournament, but overconfidence was not an issue. Green credited Minico (17-9) coach Anna Bateman for making major adjustments, trying to beat Caldwell at its own game by pushing the pace often.
The Spartans took a 33-30 lead into halftime and got up by as much as 44-34 before Caldwell responded with a 17-0 run to get back in the lead. Minico then had a 10-0 run, including seven straight points by Taylia Stimpson, who led Minico with 21 points.
However, four turnovers in the last 62 seconds doomed Minico, and allowed Caldwell to claw its way back. The Spartans had 25 turnovers in the loss.
“This is huge, absolutely huge for us. We’re exhilarated,” Green said. “This was probably the most emotional game I’ve coached. It was just a roller coaster. … My girls are fighters. We’re little, we get knocked down and we get back up and keep fighting.”
Kat Vallejo, who went down with an injury with less than a minute to play, led all scorers with 22 points for Caldwell. Martinez had 12 points after going 1-for-10 on Thursday, and Callender had 10.
Century 40, Middleton 34
Strength met strength in the other 4A semifinal. As no team led by double digits at any point, it played out that way.
The classification’s second-most-prolific offense, Century, battled the top defense, Middleton. And though the score was the latter’s type of game, the Diamondbacks fended off the pesky Vikings.
Century remained undefeated and will play in the state championship game Saturday for the fifth time in seven years.
“We knew it was going to be difficult. We knew it would be a fight, so we had to match their intensity and stay together when it got close, which we did,” Century junior post Lexi Bull said.
The Diamondbacks (26-0), who were held to their lowest scoring output against an Idaho team all season, relied heavily on their strength inside — Bull had 19 points and senior Chinma Njoku added 11. Century did not make a 3-pointer in the win, but it made 14 free throws.
Middleton (23-3) had just 12 points at the half, making 4-of-18 shots from the field, but got it going in the third quarter. The Vikings twice grabbed the lead in the last 2:06 of the third quarter, their only leads of the game. The first came on a Payton Hymas 3-pointer with 2:06 left in the third, and the Vikings got the ball back on a foul, but couldn’t score. The last, a layup by senior Lexi Mitchell, made it 21-20, but Bull answered with a layup and the foul with 20.5 seconds left. She hit the free throw, and Century never trailed again.
“Every girl left their heart out on that court,” Mitchell said. “We figured this game would be all over the place, that it would be back and forth. We didn’t put the pedal to the metal after Payton hit that shot, but we just couldn’t do it.”
[Related: Treasure Valley dominates in 5A]
The Vikings missed their first three free throws of the fourth quarter as a 23-23 tie turned into a 32-26 deficit. Mitchell hit a layup with 2:30 left to cut the lead to four, but Bull answered on the other end. Middleton never got within five again. Junior guard Ashley Campbell’s 10 points paced the Vikings.
“It hurts. It was our goal all season to make it to the Idaho Center, but I’m proud of what we did,” Mitchell said.
Of course, the Diamondbacks also had a goal to get back to the state championship, where they lost last year to Burley. And they’ll get a shot to win a title in rare fashion, with an unblemished record.
Here’s what happened in the 1A-3A semifinals:
▪ Parma 54, Timberlake 44: The Panthers blew it open in the fourth quarter to qualify for its first state championship game. Madison Jackson (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Adyson Harris (12 points, 10 rebounds) gave Parma a pair of double-doubles. Taryn Soumas scored 21 points for Timberlake on seven 3-pointers.
▪ Sugar-Salem 62, Homedale 43: Macie Knapp scored 18 points to lead three Diggers in double figures in the other semifinal. Josey Hall scored 14 for Homedale.
▪ Melba 46, West Jefferson 36: Melba reached the state final for the first time since 1984 — and became the first District Three team in the 2A final since 2003. The Mustangs never have won the title. Emma Clark led Melba with 16 points. Jordi Holdaway contributed 19 for West Jefferson.
▪ Soda Springs 49, Cole Valley Christian 44: Soda Springs improved to 26-0, won its 52nd straight game and reached the final but got a fight from Cole Valley Christian. The Chargers shot 52 percent while committing 24 turnovers, which proved the difference. Reagan Yamauchi scored 18 points for Soda Springs. Lyndsie Krogh led Cole Valley with 11.
1A Division I
▪ Shoshone 30, Prairie 27: Shoshone erased a five-point deficit in the fourth quarter to reach the final. Cierra Hennings contributed eight points and nine rebounds for the Indians. Madison Shears led Prairie with 11 points.
▪ Genesee 61, Lapwai 46: Bailey Leseman scored 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting to put the Bulldogs in the final. Grace Sobotta scored 17 for Lapwai.
1A Division II
▪ Salmon River 66, Sho-Ban 45: Salmon River made 24 free throws to pull away and reach the state championship game. Chevelle Shepherd scored 25 points for the Savages, including a 14-of-16 performance from the free-throw line. Lotus Harper added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Reesha Pokibro scored 20 for Sho-Ban.
▪ Carey 40, Nezperce 35: Athana Versis scored 11 points and Kodi Green grabbed 14 rebounds to push Carey into the final. Hannah Stapleton scored 17 for Nezperce.
(all games Saturday at Ford Idaho Center in Nampa)
9:30 a.m.: 1A Division II: Salmon River (21-2) vs. Carey (21-1)
11:30 a.m.: 1A Division I: Shoshone (23-1) vs. Genesee (20-8)
1:40 p.m.: 2A: Melba (24-1) vs. Soda Springs (26-0)
3:50 p.m.: 3A: Sugar-Salem (23-2) vs. Parma (23-2)
6 p.m.: 4A: Century (26-0) vs. Caldwell (21-5)
8 p.m.: 5A: Eagle (21-5) vs. Mountain View (25-0)