Blackfoot girls basketball state championship

The Blackfoot girls basketball team celebrates after beating Century 50-46 in Saturday’s 4A state title game at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. The victory gave the Broncos the first state championship in program history.

NAMPA — Raimee Odum came striding out of the hallway, toward her Blackfoot players and into a state championship celebration she never could have predicted. Three-year-old Piper, dressed in a black shirt and jeans, bounded toward her mom and wrapped her arms around her leg. Odum beamed. Her toddler was two when she accepted this job.

That was last spring, when the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold. Odum had another baby on the way. She had spent the last couple years coaching at Blackfoot in different capacities, but her friends called her crazy for thinking about applying for the Broncos’ head coaching position, what with the unknown circumstances looming.

She did anyway, making a foray into untold territory. She knew some of her players when she coached them on the JV team, so coaching them felt more like reconnecting with old friends. They shared a bond, but it may never grow stronger, not after Blackfoot’s 50-46 win over Century in Saturday's 4A state championship game.

The Broncos clinched their first state title in program history under the direction of first-year head coach Odum, who got a team-best 14 points from Praire Caldwell, 12 from Hadley Humpherys and 11 from Esperanza Vergara in the win.

“I kept teaching these girls, or at least trying to help teach them, that when you go through adversity, you’ve got to respond,” Odum said. “It’s not easy. You have to continue pushing forward and stepping forward.”

These Broncos celebrated because they stayed composed, ignoring nerves and polishing off a championship with free throws and layups and contributions from players who never expected to play in this game.

The best examples came in the fourth frame.

Humpherys picked up her fourth foul at the 7:24 mark of the fourth. She headed to the bench immediately, replaced by reserve forward Tyler Dalley, who entered to a 36-36 game.

Three and a half minutes later, when Odum finally felt comfortable inserting Humpherys back into the game, the theater of a state championship game took control.

It didn’t always favor the Broncos. They looked a tad sloppy in the fourth. They lost five turnovers in the quarter alone, getting called for a 10-second call on one occasion and tossing bad passes on another. If aliens were in attendance, they might not have recognized this for a state title game.

That is when things picked up. Caldwell soared to the basket from the right side, laying in a scoop layup for a 42-40 lead. The Diamondbacks bolted down the court and found Preslie Merrill for a 3-pointer, good for a 43-42 advantage.

Seconds later, Humpherys laid in a particularly easy basket. Blackfoot took a 44-43 lead. Twelve seconds of game time later, it became 46-43 when Arave connected on two free throws.

On the other end, Merrill drew a foul and headed to the line, where she sunk 1 of 2 shots. That trimmed the lead to 46-44. Then Arave hit two free throws, but Merrill snatched a steal and laid in a basket that made it 48-46.

That’s when Caldwell toed the free throw line with less than a second to play. She splashed two free throws. The final one dropped in. The Diamondbacks made a pointless inbounds pass and the Broncos celebrated, enjoying the spoils of a connection with their head coach that began years ago.

The reward is here.

“We’ve gotten better throughout the season at responding to situations like that,” Caldwell said. “Me and my teammates, we’ve had so much chemistry with each other, and it pays off.”

The tale of the best season in Blackfoot history is winding. In their third game of the season, the Broncos suffered a 43-16 loss to this same Century team, by far their worst defeat all year. It confounded a team that opened the season with a win over 5A Madison.

Soon, though, the loss turned into a win, at least of sorts.

The Broncos went on and won nine of their next 10 contests, developing an identity. They became a team in the truest sense, cutting to openings, finding teammates, pushing on fast breaks, always feeling comfortable sharing the ball.

The full realization came Saturday evening. Six players scored, three in double figures. Caldwell finished with four assists and her team totaled a 1.00 points per possession.

Quite the 11 months for a head coach who wasn’t always sure she wanted the job.

“You always wish for this. You always hope for this,” Odum said. “I knew that we had a talented group. We have a really talented group of girls. They are so good to each other. They have great relationships off the court. That’s special.”

BLACKFOOT 50, CENTURY 46

Century 10 8 16 12 — 46

Blackfoot 8 8 19 15 — 50

CENTURY — Preslie Merrill 16, Ashton Adamson 10, Tenleigh Smith 6, Taylor Smith 7, Taylor Bull 7

BLACKFOOT — Praire Caldwell 14, Izzy Arave 7, Esperanza Vergara 11, Kianna Wright 5, Tyler Dalley 1, Hadley Humpherys 12.

Greg Woods is a sports reporter at the Post Register. Reach him 208-542-6772 and follow him on Twitter at GregWWoods.