Boys High School Basketball

Fruitland’s fantastic finale: Grizzlies claim 3A state title behind dominant defense

Fruitland celebrates winning 3A title over Kimberly

The Fruitland Grizzlies boys basketball team won the 3A state championship March 3, 2018.
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The Fruitland Grizzlies boys basketball team won the 3A state championship March 3, 2018.

The last time Fruitland had won a boys basketball state tournament, back in 2012, Jimmy Richins could not have been more upset.

“I hated them,” he said.

When the Grizzlies hoisted the 3A championship trophy Saturday at the Idaho Center, Richins was as happy as he has ever been.

The lone senior on the squad, he keyed a stifling defensive effort in the 62-41 title game win over Kimberly, a goal he’d strived for ever since he moved from rival Weiser before he started high school.

“All I wanted was a state championship. I don’t care how many points I scored. I was going all out for this team,” Richins said.

Kimberly (20-6) shot 14-of-52 (26.9 percent) from the field. Richins, who Fruitland (21-4) coach Mike Fitch said has improved from “average” two years ago, was tasked with stopping senior guard Trey Garey. He held the Bulldogs’ top scorer to eight points on 3-of-15 shooting.

The Bulldogs, making their first state tournament appearance since 2011, saw their 12-game winning streak end. Fruitland blew the game open with a 13-0 run early in the second quarter and an 11-2 run in the third quarter to keep the lead in double digits for its 14th straight win.

“We played so hard to make sure we got here, but we kind of ran out of gas,” Kimberly coach Deren Garey said. “When we got good shots, they didn’t fall. … Our guards had been taking care of the ball really well, but we made a lot of mental mistakes.”

Patrolling the other bench, Fitch sported a pair of Nikes, in the process disproving the brand’s old slogan: “It’s Gotta Be The Shoes.”

Fitch last year retired the same pair of Converse he had worn 20 years ago as a student at Idaho State, where he and Garey attended together. It was a bit of a signature look for Fitch — the trusty, lucky pair that had won him three state titles from 2008 to 2012.

But winning his fourth state championship, 10 years to the day from his first, he pointed to his players as all the luck he needed.

“It was getting to the point where I was going to have to duct tape them,” Fitch said. “I’m not a fashion aficionado as it is, I’m not a real trend-setter, and that would’ve pushed me over the edge.”

Six years ago, when the Grizzlies won their last championship, junior forward Jake O’Neil was in the stands, cheering for his older brother, future Boise State tight end Alec Dhaenens. On the floor Saturday, O’Neil put up a monster effort with 20 points and 11 rebounds, finishing off the performance with 10 fourth-quarter points.

In the locker room before the game, Fitch told the players they had a chance to add to the rich history at Fruitland.

“It means everything to get it done; it’s the biggest thing we can do in high school,” O’Neil said. “To put our mark on that legacy, that’s huge.”

Garey said he hopes the state experience will have a positive effect on his younger players, as he started five seniors Saturday. Sophomore Dawson Cummins led the team with 10 points off the bench.

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are well-positioned to make another run in 2019, losing only Richins, who had four points. Nine Grizzlies scored, including junior guard Cole Eiguren, who had 10 points and five assists. They did not lose to a 3A opponent this season.

“They might be better next year,” Richins said. “Back-to-back would be nice. I hope they win it again for me.”

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn