The history of rivalry games between Idaho Falls and Skyline took on a distinctly different tone on Thursday.
A thrilling, back-and-forth boys basketball game that would likely have had both sides of the Idaho Falls gym rocking, instead was relegated to the echoes of squeaky shoes, an occasional shout out from a spectator, and the shrill whistles of the refs.
On the court however, the fierce rivalry didn’t miss a beat as Idaho Falls held off Skyline 54-53, with Jaxon Sorenson’s two free throws with four seconds remaining providing the margin of victory for the Tigers. Skyline did hit a shot at the buzzer, but it was waved off as coming too late, despite some contention from the Skyline bench.
As is custom in the rivalry, Skyline got to paint the goalposts at Ravsten Stadium blue after the Grizzlies won the football matchup in the fall. There may not be a basketball equivalent for painting the goalposts, but that didn’t matter on Thursday, especially for the Tigers, who improved to 2-1 on the young season and were clutch down the stretch with four free throws in the final 22 seconds.
“It’s still Idaho Falls and Skyline,” Tigers interim head coach Nate Hartman said of the rivalry and lack of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions. “I told our guys before the game that the toughest team was going to win.”
Hartman said he felt his players got outworked by Skyline in the first half, despite the close score. The largest lead of the game was early in the second quarter when Skyline held a 17-12 advantage. Neither team had more than a three-point lead for the rest of the game.
With Idaho Falls, which had been the team to beat in the 4A District 6 conference of late, moving up to 5A this season, the game did not have playoff or conference implications, but it did have bragging rights.
“It’s always going to matter,” Skyline coach Clint Cornish said. “We still want to beat those guys and they want to beat us.”
Cornish said he also felt his team lacked energy at times, likely a result of playing in a near-empty gym.
“It’s that kind of thing they’re going to have to learn to play through,” Cornish said.
Skyline’s Raleigh Shippen had the hot hand early scoring eight points in the first quarter and 17 in the half as the teams entered the break tied 29-29.
Kenyon Sadiq’s driving layup to open the fourth quarter put the Grizzlies up 43-40, but they couldn’t pull away. Parker Kucera hit a 3-pointer from the right side to put the Grizzlies up 53-50 with 41 seconds left, but Idaho Falls responded.
Seeley hit a pair of free throws, and after missed free throws at the other end by Skyline, the Tigers worked the ball downcourt as the clock ticked down. Sorenson drove to the basket but was fouled, setting up the clinching free throws with four seconds left.
“We knew coming in would be a close game,” said Seeley, who finished with 21 points, adding the goal was just to focus on the game despite the lack of fans and atmosphere.
Shippen finished with 26 points as Skyline dropped to 0-4 with all of the losses coming against 5A opponents.
Skyline hosts Madison on Wednesday while Idaho Falls is at Blackfoot on Saturday.
IDAHO FALLS 54, SKYLINE 53
Skyline 13 16 12 12 -- 53
Idaho Falls 12 17 11 14 --54
SKYLINE -- Christean Thomas 5, Parker Kucera 3, Raleigh Shippen 26, Cade Marlow 4, Landon Merzlock 7, Issac Farnsworth 4, Kenyon Sadiq 4.
IDAHO FALLS -- Nate Rose 5, Luke Rodel 1, Dylan Seeley 21, Merit Jones 6, Jaxon Call 1, Jaxon Sorenson 12, Christian Jensen 4, Skyler Olson 4.