NAMPA — After watching someone else celebrate in four trips in the last five years to the state 3A championship game, it was their turn.
Piece by piece, 13 other players — as well as their coaches — got that chance, finally.
The Timberlake Tigers are the state 3A girls basketball champions, after crushing March Valley 62-35 in the title game Saturday afternoon at the Ford Idaho Center.
“They’re really excited, and they should be,” Timberlake coach Matt Miller said. “I think that the grit we showed last night (against Teton in the semifinals) was that we’re here for one thing, and they battled through and got tough. We played well in the first half, but not great. I think they were win or nothing.”
The Tigers, who have used a pressing five-in, five-out rotation all season in order to have their depth used as a strength, didn’t really let the emotions hit them until 2:30 remaining when Miller huddled the team on the bench.
“He said, we’re finally state champions,” junior Keelie Lawler said. “All this work has finally paid off. And it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.”
Timberlake was 8 for 27 from the field in the first half, but forced 17 of Marsh Valley’s 29 turnovers in the second half to pull away. The Tigers also went 11 of 15 from the free-throw line in the second half, compared to 3 for 10 in the first half.
“I think the biggest part was our depth,” said Miller, in his 11th season as Timberlake coach. “We play really hard, really fast, with a lot of bodies in both halves, regardless. In the second half, whether we shorten our bench or not, that first half matters. It plays a big factor and it plays a big factor in our success in the second half.”
Timberlake finishes 23-1 with 23 straight wins, its lone loss coming at 5A Lewiston to open the season.
“They’re a great group,” Miller said. “They were just able to stay focused for an entire season, which isn’t easy to do. To finish how we finished was pretty special.”
After four runner-up finishes in the last five years, Timberlake broke through with its third straight double-digit win of the weekend.
“It’s kind of relief,” Miller said. “It feels good, but it doesn’t really change anything. The only difference is we’ve got one more win that we did last year. It’s more for the kids. They’ve put so much heart and soul into this. They’ve put so much work into this during the offseason, during practices and then just getting better is where it’s at.”
“For his sanity, it was really important,” said Lawler of the school’s first basketball title in school history. “It feels really good. It gives us some confidence now. Before, we’ve been like, it’s the championship game, so we’re going to lose. Nothing had to be said. We executed like we were supposed to do and got it done.”
Junior Jacquelyn Mallet scored six of her eight points in the first quarter for Timberlake.
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for the last three years,” Mallet said. “It doesn’t even feel like real life right now. It hasn’t hit me yet honestly. Everyone was on the same page, had the same common goal and wanted to get this done. It was with everyone’s best effort that we did it.”
“I was so happy for Jacq,” Miller said. “She had a rough game and didn’t play her best last night (in Friday’s semifinal against Teton). To throw that game away and come out and have one of the best games of the season, in the state championship, showed so much mental toughness. I was really happy for her.”
Lawler scored 10 of her 11 points in the second half.
“She had a great tournament,” Miller said of Lawler. “She got to play in every game this year, which she hasn’t been able to due to injury her first three years. She had a great season really.”
Five seniors — Emily Vanderhoof, Payten Rhodes, Erica Powell, Anna Gardom and Carleen Simpson — played a role in this state title.
“It’s crazy,” Powell said. “It’s so awesome that we’re in with the history of Timberlake now. It’s the best.”
Junior guard Allison Kirby finished with nine points, including two 3-pointers for Timberlake. Kirby has started at point guard for Timberlake in the last three state title games.
“I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to get here,” Kirby said. “We’re really blessed to get this chance to get here again and actually got it done this time. I’m very excited for the team. It’s a great way to end the season and I’m really proud of them for getting it done.”
Katie Anderson scored nine points for Marsh Valley, which finishes 20-6.
“They’re a good squad,” Marsh Valley coach Kyle McQuivey said of Timberlake. “They’ve got players off the bench and they just hound you. They got in our head a little bit and we had to get out of our game plan a little bit. They just frazzled us a little bit.”
Marsh Valley trailed 22-15 at halftime before being outscored 40-20 in the second half.
“They just started hitting some shots and started to pull away from us,” McQuivey said. “Our legs got a little tired and we couldn’t react the way we wanted to. And they just had the energy on us.”
Marsh Valley beat Timberlake in the 2012 title game, the Tigers’ second trip to the finals.
“It’s hard to tell the girls that second in state is a great accomplishment, but it’s hard right now,” McQuivey said. “But Timberlake is a great team and they deserved to win one.”
Marsh Valley 6 9 8 12 — 35
Timberlake 14 8 18 22 — 62
MARSH VALLEY — Nicholes 0, Sutton 0, Belnap 0, Redford 0, Vorwaller 7, Dunn 0, Gunter 5, Batts 5, Kofford 0, Anderson 9, Gray 6, Marshall 2. Totals 13-32 9-20 35.
TIMBERLAKE — Vanderhoof 5, Kelley 6, Rhodes 5, Mallet 8, Starr 5, Jezek 2, Kirby 9, Cheevers 3, Powell 2, Gardom 5, Simpson 1, Tonkin 2, Lawler 11. Totals 20-58 14-25 62.