With Bishop Kelly’s lead down to four points with 13.2 seconds left Thursday in the 4A District Three championship, Dan Sabala toed the line for a set of one-and-one free throws.
The junior guard’s shot bounced off the front of the rim at Middleton High, then the back. It came down and hit the back of the rim again before kissing the front of the rim, stalling and finally falling through the net.
The shooter’s roll broke a nearly 3-minute scoreless stretch for the Knights. Sabala hit three more free throws in the final 20 seconds to allow the Knights to pull away with a 57-52 victory over Middleton, clinching Bishop Kelly’s second district title in three years.
The Knights (14-5) own the district’s top seed heading into the state tournament, which starts next Thursday at Borah High. Bishop Kelly opens at 6:15 p.m. against defending state champ Rigby (11-12), which qualified for state Thursday with a victory over Pocatello.
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Rigby edged the Knights in last year’s state championship.
“We’re just excited. We know we get Pocatello or Rigby, and we’re kind of rooting for Rigby,” said junior guard Bronson King, who hadn’t yet learned of Rigby’s win. “We want another chance at them after that state championship.”
Middleton (10-13) also has a spot at state and will take on No. 1-ranked Preston (19-4) at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at Borah.
Bishop Kelly pushed the pace all night, setting half-court traps and quickly outletting the ball up court after defensive rebounds. The speed kept Middleton from setting its defense and using its superior size to bully the Knights in the paint.
“Middleton is an offensive rebounding team,” said King, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. “They had 10 (offensive) rebounds at half. We just had to limit their offensive rebounds and just push the pace up and down the floor and get buckets so they couldn’t set up in their zone.”
Junior guard Jacob Russell helped set the pace coming off the bench. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, filling lanes on the break for easy layups.
Bishop Kelly coach Ryan Kerns said Russell has grown into a role as a spark off the bench the past two weeks and pushed the Knights’ pace even higher. And he played key minutes Thursday as sophomore Max Rice (eight points, nine rebounds) left late in the third quarter with an ankle injury before returning in the fourth.
“He’s starting to understand what that does for us, and he’s playing lights out,” Kerns said. “I don’t know if there’s anyone playing more consistent over the last four games for us.”
David Kofoed paced Middleton with 13 points and six rebounds, and Ethan McPherson added 11 points.
Thirteen Treasure Valley boys basketball teams have punched their tickets to state next week. Six more will try to qualify via play-in games Saturday.
▪ 5A: Borah (20-2), Centennial (20-3), Mountain View (14-10), Rocky Mountain (17-6)
▪ 4A: Bishop Kelly (14-5), Middleton (10-13)
▪ 3A: Emmett (14-9), Parma (13-11)
▪ 2A: Melba (18-4), Nampa Christian (15-7)
▪ 1A Div. I: Ambrose (22-2), Liberty Charter (15-9)
▪ 1A Div. II: Council (20-3)