During her first season at Caldwell High, girls basketball coach Ashley Green was one win away from a milestone on two different occasions.
The Cougars (21-6) were one win away from a district championship, which would have been the first in school history, and on Saturday night, the Cougars were one win away from a state title. But both times, the Cougars fell short against a 4A power.
Century High (27-0) beat Caldwell 41-26 in the 4A state championship game.
Despite the loss, there is a sense of hope moving forward for a basketball program that prior to Thursday had not won a game at state since 2001, the last year Caldwell won state.
“Even after today, it’s something we can look back to and our girls can keep going forward,” senior Julia Martinez said.
But without their all-conference guard, Kat Vallejo, who sat out Saturday’s game with a torn meniscus she suffered during Friday night’s thrilling semifinal win over Minico, a game that Green said was the most emotional game she has ever been a part of, Caldwell struggled to find any sort of offense.
In a game where Caldwell was outmatched in height and physicality, the Cougars turned to the three-ball to open the game. Ten of Caldwell’s first 13 shots came from behind the arc and the Cougars didn’t score a two-point field goal until early in the third quarter.
But the threes weren’t falling as Caldwell shot 2-of-10 in the first half and missed all six of its attempts in the second.
For Century, this was business as usual. The Diamondbacks capped off a perfect season, avenging last year’s state championship loss to Burley and winning their third state title in the last five years.
Century’s defense limited Caldwell’s options.
“It made it hard to transition, which is something we are really good at,” Caldwell senior Jalen Callender said.
Caldwell never led in Saturday’s game. The Diamondbacks opened the night on a 7-0 run and made three of their first four field goals. The Cougars didn’t hit double digits until the 6:16 mark of the third quarter.
Century’s stiff post defense, which was headed by 6-foot-3 senior Chinma Njoku, was problematic for Caldwell. She was a big reason why Century dominated the glass, outrebounding Century by a 2:1 margin (30-15). Nijoku grabbed a total of six rebounds with 11 points while 5-foot-11 sophomore Ashton Adamson collected five rebounds and four points.
Callender led Caldwell in scoring with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting in what was a defensive struggle from the opening tip.
“We knew it was a type of David and Goliath experience coming in,” Green said. “We had nothing to lose. Defensively wise, I was very proud of my girls.”