NAMPA—A confident basketball team is a dangerous thing, especially this time of year.
Through two rounds of the 5A state tournament, no team is playing with more swagger than Hillcrest. The Knights rallied to topple Post Falls 65-61 Friday at the Ford Idaho Center, their second clutch victory in as many nights.
They advance to face defending champion Rocky Mountain at 8 p.m. tonight in their first state title game appearance in program history.
Once again, the Knights will be underdogs. But it’s a role they’ve come to embrace.
“Our team battles,” said senior guard Derek Marlowe, who led the Knights with 17 points. “When we’re the underdog, it’s motivation. We know if we just do our job, we’ll get where we want to go.”
Hillcrest (21-5) trailed for most of its semifinal matchup. Led by 6-foot-7 senior Jake Pfennigs (23 points, 11 rebounds), Post Falls played from ahead for the first three-plus quarters. But the Trojans never built a comfortable cushion, and in the fourth, the Knights made their run.
“It was a battle out there,” Hillcrest coach Dave Austin said. “But these kids have been in every situation this year, back and forth and up and down. They’ve never lost their focus, and tonight, they rose to the occasion.”
Hillcrest took its first lead of the second half when junior Parker Boyle (11 points) hit his third 3-pointer of the game with 4:46 remaining. Senior post Jaxon Weatherly (12 points, six rebounds) followed with consecutive buckets to push the lead to 56-50 with 2:47 remaining. He also grabbed two huge offensive rebounds for the Knights.
“Jaxon has done that for us all year long,” Austin said. “He’s one of those kids who does all the little things and doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but he stepped up big tonight.”
Pfennigs closed the gap to 56-52, but a dagger 3-pointer by Marlowe stretched the lead to seven. The Knights held on from there, with Marlowe and Weatherly going 6-for-7 from the foul line to seal it.
Boyle, Trey Johnson (10 points) and Kyle Austin (9) helped carry the scoring load for Hillcrest, which shot 47 percent from the field and 52 percent (11-for-21) on 3s. Post Falls didn’t do much to fuel the rally—the Trojans shot 50 percent and only had five turnovers in the game—but time and again, Hillcrest delivered with clutch, contested shots.
“We got that confidence going in the fourth,” Weatherly said. “We shared the ball, and everyone was money.”
Post Falls coach Mike McLean was impressed with his opponents’ poise under pressure.
“I thought they played with supreme confidence,” McLean said. “They made some incredible shots and as a group, I thought they had a lot of faith in one another.”
Sophomore guard Colby Gennett chipped in 20 points for Post Falls, which lost a semifinal heartbreaker for the second year in a row.
Now, Hillcrest stands one win away from an improbable championship run.
“It’s a blast,” Weatherly said. “We’re so happy to be here, and it’s something we’ve dreamed about for a long time. We’re ready.”
HILLCREST 65, POST FALLS 61
Hillcrest 13 12 19 21—65
Post Falls 16 13 18 14—61
HILLCREST (65)—Derek Marlowe 17, Parker Stevens 6, Trey Johnson 10, Parker Boyle 11, Jaxon Weatherly 12, Kyle Austin 9. FG: 22-46. FT: 10-12. 3-pointers: 11-21 (Marlowe 4-8, Stevens 2-3, Johnson 2-4, Boyle 3-3). Total fouls: 14. Fouled out: none.
POST FALLS (61) — Colby Gennett 20, Tanner McCliment-Call 8, David Bourgard 8, Jacob Pfennigs 23, Nicolas Morris 2. FG: 21-42. FT: 9-11. 3-pointers: 10-21 (Gennett 4-4, Bourgard 1-2, Pfennigs 5-7). Total fouls: 14. Fouled out: none.