MERIDIAN – From the time the final buzzer sounded in the 2017 3A state title game, it was Snake River’s mission to return the Ford Idaho Center in 2018 and avenge last year’s overtime loss to Sugar-Salem.
The Panthers’ trek was stopped cold, however, in Friday’s 3A state semifinal game as they were held scoreless in the final three and half minutes in a 52-45 loss to Fruitland at Meridian High School.
“I’m sad for all the seniors,” Snake River coach Robert Coombs said. “That was their goal to get back to the Idaho Center and finish it out. But like I told the kids tonight, ‘Any time you can go to state and get a trophy, it’s something to still be proud of.’ Three teams go home with a win, so we’re hoping to be one of those three teams.”
Senior Clancy Thomas scored Snake River’s last points of the game, making two free throws to tie the score 45-45 and complete a 16-4 Panthers run. The forward finished with 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting, 15 rebounds and four blocks.
“Everyone’s a fighter on this team,” Thomas said. “We didn’t want to go down like that, so we came firing back. Credit to everyone. They showed we had heart. Just wasn’t enough at the end.”
What will irk Snake River’s only double-digit scorer in the game is his 4 of 10 foul shooting performance Friday. Thomas said the last time he shot that poorly from the charity stripe was his sophomore year, coincidently at the same place (Meridian High) against the same team (Fruitland) in a game that ended the same way, with a 50-41 first-round loss in the 2016 3A state tournament.
‘You can’t fault Clancy,” Coombs said. “He’s our leading scorer all year, and I think he was one of the big keys to get us back in the ball game.”
Snake River was in control early Friday, jumping ahead 8-0 with 3:39 left in the first quarter. Thomas began the spurt with two points down low, while he and the Panthers presented stifling defense on the other side. When Fruitland tried to swing the ball to the block, the Grizzlies stole the ball twice and were blocked once early in the first quarter.
Fruitland’s workaround was scoring on transition buckets when the defense wasn’t set, while compiling enough half-court points down low to keep Snake River honest. An example was when Grizzlies guard Joe Henggeler arrived from behind the baseline to receive a pass and score on a layup in the middle of the second quarter to put his team ahead 15-10.
Fruitland was forced to find shots inside, without a 3-point touch as it went 2 of 11 for the game. Fruitland guard Jayden Stice accounted for one trey, from the corner to give his team the largest lead of the game at 41-29 in what was the last field goal of the third quarter.
Carson Dance added nine points for Snake River (21-3), which plays eastern Idaho foe Shelley at 11 a.m. today in the 3A state third place game.
FRUITLAND 52, SNAKE RIVER 45
Snake River 8 12 9 16 - 45
Fruitland 6 15 20 11 - 52
SNAKE RIVER (45) – Matt Kracl 4, Kade Mortensen 6, Carson Dance 9, Coby Young 4, Clancy Thomas 20, Buxton Dawson 2. FG: 19-54. FT: 5-12. 3-pointers: 2-14 (Mortensen 1-3, Dance 1-6). Total fouls: 16. Fouled out: Mortensen.
FRUITLAND (52) – Joe Henggeler 2, Jayden Stice 3, Josh Henggeler2, Cole Eiguren 2, Jake O’Neil 16, Hunter Stamfli 8, Jacob Richins 9, Drake Stampfil 10. FG: 22-48. FT: 6-11. 3-pointers: 2-11 (Stice 1-1, O’Neil 1-3). Total fouls: 16. Fouled out: Richins.