Pirates find wind in their sails at state tournament

Feb. 16—NAMPA — For the first quarter-and-a-half of their Idaho Class 1A Division I state girls basketball opening round game on Thursday at Columbia High School, the fifth-ranked Prairie Pirates of Cottonwood and No. 4 Murtaugh Red Devils played as close as the seeding might have suggested.

After that, however, the tides turned distinctly in the Pirates' favor as they powered to a 66-54 victory and booked a semifinal showdown against the top-seeded Grace Grizzlies today at 4 p.m. Pacific at the Ford Idaho Center.

Turning a corner

"The kids played a good game," Prairie coach Lori Mader said. "Really, the best game we've played all year — and what a good time to do it."

The opening minutes saw the Red Devils (18-6) hold a slight edge, leading by as many as four points while Prairie repeatedly battled back to level footing, finishing the first quarter at 16-16. The second quarter proceeded in much the same fashion before, as Mader described it, "we kind of settled down, buckled into our man-to-man (and) got a couple of steals and quick layins" that marked a changed in the game's dynamic.

Murtaugh ran an energetic full-court press defense from the opening play and maintained it for much of the game's duration, but Prairie mustered a three-pronged offense that the Red Devils ultimately could not thwart.

Kylie Schumacher carried the Pirates in the early stages with a series of putbacks and post shots to prevent Murtaugh from pulling away, and finished an efficient performance with 9-for-12 field goals and 2-for-3 free throws made to total 20 points while making eight rebounds. Her cousin Lexi Schumacher provided a major spark for the Pirates' midgame surge, hitting an inside jump shot and a deep 3-point goal that opened up their first multiple-possession lead at 29-24 en route to finishing with 26 points and nine boards — game-highs in both categories. Elven, a sophomore, forced several critical turnovers in addition to notching 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Red Devils suffered from a substandard free-throw performance, going 6-for-17 from the line. The Pirates, by contrast, made an opportune 10-for-13 showing in foul shots. Prairie also had a significant advantage at 41-28 in the rebound battle.

It was the most lopsided defeat Murtaugh has suffered all season — only the second to come by more than a possession, and the first by a double-digit margin.

Knocking at the door

Mader is coaching her 14th season with the Pirates and has taken the team to State every time. She has overseen two title runs, but it has been nearly a decade since the last one, which was clinched via a 56-40 triumph over perennial rival Lapwai on Feb. 21, 2014. More recently, Prairie has been a consistent bridesmaid, having taken third at State in 2023 after a hat trick of runner-up finishes the previous three years. Today's encounter with Grace (20-3) will be a rematch of the 2021 final, which saw the Grizzlies prevail 46-37.

Grace enters today's semifinal riding a 14-game winning streak, while Prairie has won 12 of its last 13 after hovering around .500 early in the season.

"Grace is legit — they've got five seniors, and they've got a couple bigs that move well too," Mader said.

The teams have a common opponent in Murtaugh, which Grace defeated 56-50 in a nonleague game last November. The Pirates might now take encouragement from having doubled the Grizzlies' winning margin.

"Hopefully we turned a corner at the right time, and I guess tomorrow will tell if we did or not," Mader said.

PRAIRIE (18-7)

Lexi Schumacher 9 6-8 26, Aubree Rehder 0 0-0 0, Sydney Shears 0 0-0 0, Hailey Hanson 1 0-0 2, Nadia Cash 0 0-0 0, Avery Riener 0 0-0 0, Ellie Nuxoll 0 0-0 0, Halee Rowland 0 0-0 0, Erica Schlader 0 0-0 0, Alli Geis 1 0-0 2, Sage Elven 7 2-2 16, Kylie Schumacher 9 2-3 20. Totals 27 10-13 66.


Ashlee Stanger 5 1-2 11, Bryleigh Widmier 2 1-3 5, Ady Stanger 5 3-9 13, Camila Rojas 3 1-1 7, Linda Ambriz 0 0-2 0, Valeria Alvarez 0 0-0 0, Denym Brown 1 0-0 2, Bristyl Perkins 1 0-0 2, Ainsley Giles 0 0-0 0, Peyton Stanger 0 0-0 0, Courtney Jensen 7 0-0 14. Totals 24 6-17 54.

Prairie 16 19 17 14—66

Murtaugh 16 12 14 12—54

3-point goals — L. Schumacher 2.

Wendt can be contacted at 208-848-2268 or