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Kendrick Tigers are Idaho 1A DII girls state champions

Feb. 18—Ron Ireland's career as Kendrick girls basketball coach came full circle on Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center as his Tigers defeated the Dietrich Blue Devils in a clash of the top-two seeds the Idaho Class 1A Division II state final.

The Tigers pulled out a 55-53 overtime victory when Harley Heimgartner made a go-ahead fast-break layup and Kendrick defenders thwarted a last-ditch Dietrich drive to the hoop aimed at further extending the contest. The win avenged a state title game defeat to Dietrich from 2013 — Ireland's first season at the helm of the program.

This was the Kendrick girls' first state title since 2002, and a career first and last for Ireland, who has announced his retirement.

"I'm going to try to hold it in," a teary-eyed Ireland said during the post-game ceremony. "I love these girls. I love the program, love Kendrick High School. Thanks to my wife, family, support. I'm done. Can't do any more. Thank you so much."

Early Tiger tear

Kendrick (23-3) scored the game's first six points and held a comfortable advantage for most of regulation, leading 23-14 at halftime and 37-28 through the third quarter. The Tigers got the edge on the Blue Devils (20-4) by driving hard on fast breaks and mobbing Dietrich threat Katilyn Wanamaker, who could hardly touch the ball without three defenders converging on her.

"We got the transition going early, and then we were just pretty comfortable," Ireland said of his team's strong start.

Devils die hard

Dietrich gradually succeeded in slowing the movement of the ball up and down the court, and got a late spark from Aleigha Robertson, whose hot hand was instrumental to closing a three-possession gap over the final two minutes of regulation.

"We just started to overthink things, I think, and just had some bad passes and bad communication," Ireland said. "(The Blue Devils) just tightened up their defense a little better. They wanted it just as bad as we did, so they came fighting. The No. 1 and 2 teams going at it, you shouldn't expect anything less, I guess."

Ruby Stewart went off for three critical 3-point goals to help Kendrick keep the lead, but narrowly missed two high-pressure free throws at 49-47 with 15 seconds remaining in regulation, each of which sat up and bounced repeatedly on the rim before falling wayward.

Wanamaker made her own trip to the line with 3.6 seconds on the clock after the ensuing Blue Devil possession, and made both foul shots — the first narrowly rolling in before the second swished — to achieve the tie.

The Blue Devils would twice more draw level in the ensuing overtime period after Kendrick nosed ahead 51-49 and 53-51, but never quite led. Heimgartner drove across the court for what would prove to be the final basket of the game, and heavily defended 3-point and inside attempts from Dietrich in the last 10 seconds sailed well away of the hoop.

Odds and ends

Heimgartner was the Tigers' high-scorer with 15 points and Hailey Taylor added 14. Ruby Stewart went off for three critical 3-point goals in the latter stages of the game and put up 10 points while making four assists before fouling out with about two minutes remaining in overtime. Morgan Silflow scored nine points and pulled down nine rebounds, tied with Hali Anderson for a team-high in that category.

Robertson ultimately led all scorers with 20 points. Wanamaker scored 13 and had 10 rebounds, and Jessika Power notched her own double-double for the Blue Devils with 10 points and a whopping 20 boards.

Dietrich dominated the overall rebounding battle 54-34, but Kendrick handled the ball more efficiently, conceding 19 turnovers compared to the Blue Devils' 30. Ireland attributed the Tigers' success in the clutch partly to the experience of his senior leaders — Heimgartner, Stewart, Taylor and Silflow — who were part of a run to the state final as freshmen in 2021.

"We always say 'Team' for our breaks, and we 'live by the team,'" he said. "Our motto. I just think it was a great team effort.

"It's been a great run," Ireland concluded. "I love all the memories, and what a way to finish it off at the Ford Center."

KENDRICK (23-3)

Harley Heimgartner 5 5-6 15, Hali Anderson 0 0-0 0, Taylor Boyer 0 0-0 0, Natalie Kimbley 2 3-6 7, Morgan Silflow 1 7-8 9, Ruby Stewart 3 1-4 10, Hailey Taylor 5 3-4 14. Totals 16 19-28 55.

DIETRICH (20-4)

Paige Van Tassell 1 0-0 2, Jessika Power 5 0-0 10, Aleigha Robertson 7 5-8 20, Saige Hubert 0 5-6 5, Ellie Hoskisson 1 0-0 3, Katilyn Wanamaker 4 4-5 13. Totals 18 15-20 53.

Kendrick 9 14 14 12 6—55

Dietrich 6 8 14 21 4—53

3-point goals — Stewart 3, Taylor, Robertson, Hoskisson, Wanamaker.

Wendt can be contacted at 208-848-2268 or cwendt@lmtribune.com.