NAMPA - In their previous two games at the state 3A tournament, the Timberlake Tigers hadn't gotten caught up in the emotional roller coaster that comes with playing three games in three days on such a big stage.
But after senior Caitlyn Nichols banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the championship game at the Idaho Center into overtime, Timberlake couldn't control it anymore.
Without senior post Cassie Thompson, who fouled out with 1:01 remaining in regulation, the Tigers were unable to close out their first girls basketball title, falling to the Sugar-Salem Diggers 48-44 in overtime.
"I'm really proud of the kids," Miller said. "If you asked me before Christmas if we'd be in the state championship game, I wouldn't have thought so. Our best four games of the season were our last four games to get here, but tonight wasn't."
Trailing 41-38 with 14.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Nichols missed an attempt with six seconds remaining, and in the scramble for the rebound, Sugar-Salem knocked the ball out of bounds. The second time, Nichols didn’t miss.
“It wasn’t intended for me to shoot,” Nichols said. “It was supposed to go back to Kara (Wenstrom), but she was covered so I put it up.”
As the Tigers walked back onto the floor for the overtime tip, both Nichols and Wenstrom, a junior, had a tough time controlling the emotion of the game.
“It was one of those things where we realized we’ve still got this,” Nichols said.
Timberlake trailed through most of the game, but held a 44-43 lead with 1:50 remaining in overtime on a layup and free throw by Nichols.
“Both Caitlyn and Kara are the players we look to when Cassie’s out,” Timberlake coach Matt Miller said. “Both of them had a fantastic game.”
Sugar-Salem (21-5), which won its second state title in three years, took the lead for good on a jumper by senior Vanessa Hawkes with 1:30 remaining.
“We came into the tournament just excited to be here,” Sugar-Salem coach Todd Jensen said. “We started with a good game against the defending champion Priest River and had a close game last night against Marsh Valley. We made our way here after a brutal preseason, but we’re glad to take the big one tonight.”
Timberlake (20-5) shot 8 of 19 from the free-throw line and had 29 turnovers, while forcing 24 against Sugar-Salem.
“I think nerves affected us more than anything,” Miller said. “We were being impatient and passing to players that weren’t open. They had a little bit of nerves coming in and the kids get hard on themselves when they make mistakes.”
“None of our kids had played in an arena setting,” he added. “If we could have made our free throws, we could have won by 15. We didn’t play our best game today. Sugar played a great game.”
Thompson, who has signed with the University of Portland, finished with a game-high 20 points, three blocks and three steals for Timberlake, playing in its first state title game in only its second appearance at state since the school opened in 1998.
“She’s a great player,” Jensen said. “We tried to front her in the post. They’ve got an amazing team and Cassie’s an amazing player. Coach Miller does a great job.”
Nichols, who also played on the school’s third-place finisher at the state soccer tournament in the fall, added the team should be proud of its season.
“At first I thought, ‘man we got runner-up,’” Nichols said. “But we should be proud of ourselves. We came down here and proved it to ourselves. I’ve played with Cassie forever and I’m really going to miss it.”
Timberlake will lose only three players as Thompson, Nichols and Ashley Peters graduate in the spring.
“We’ve got some players coming back next year and hope to carry the momentum,” Miller said. “I’m really proud of the kids. They played as hard as they could — the shots just weren’t falling tonight.”
Sugar-Salem 10 10 9 12 7 — 48
Timberlake 10 8 8 15 3 — 44
SUGAR-SALEM — Hawkes 14, Miller 8, Brown 5, Hill 2, Brewer 0, Henry 0, Inns 10, Choffin 9, Spratling 0. Totals 15-48 17-22 48.
TIMBERLAKE — Wenstrom 12, Malloy 2, Mason 0, Hoffman 0, Nichols 10, Thompson 20, Peters 0, George 0. Totals 16-39 8-19 44.