ST. ANTHONY--Deja vu was alive and well at South Fremont High School in Tuesday’s 2A District 6 girls basketball championship game between No. 1 seeded Ririe and No. 3 seeded West Jefferson.
A year ago this week, then sophomore Indee Williams brought the house down for the Bulldogs in the if necessary district title game versus West Jefferson with a game-winning 3-pointer that prompted cheers loud enough to shake the gym floor.
Tuesday, senior Maddie Johnson was the woman of the hour.
With 11 seconds left, the game knotted at 39-39 and possession to Ririe following a West Jefferson turnover, Williams inbounded to Johnson just outside half court. Johnson set up the offense, got tripped up while passing to Anna Boone, then got the ball back from Boone to drive to the hoop for a layup with 1.6 seconds left. It went in, Ririe head coach Damien Smith jumped into the air pumping his fist and the Bulldogs on the court rushed toward the bench in a celebratory huddle.
West Jefferson had called for a timeout right as Johnson’s shot went in, causing 1.3 seconds to be put back onto the clock. The Panthers heaved the ball toward the opposite hoop, but the buzzer sounded to officially end the game 41-39 Ririe.
“It’s definitely deja vu, for sure,” Johnson said. “It was a blur. I just knew we had to score.”
Smith said he was feeling that same deja vu from the bench while chatting with his assistant coaches, including the thought of ‘not again.’ But Johnson’s layup dashed those thoughts.
“With all she’s been through pain wise, emotionally, physically and mentally, it’s karma,” Smith said of her game-winner, referencing the surgery she had last spring to repair a torn labrum in her hip. “That’s what that is. As a coach, you don’t get very many Maddie Johnsons. That was a gritty basketball game. West Jefferson’s improved a lot throughout the season.”
The Bulldogs (20-4) made history last year by becoming the first girls basketball team to win back-to-back 2A District 6 titles since Butte County did so in 2007. They furthered that history Tuesday, becoming the first girls basketball team to win three consecutive 2A District 6 titles since Butte County did so from 2005 to 2007.
“I can’t even describe it,” Johnson said of the three-peat. “I’m so glad I got to be part of this, especially with these girls.”
The three-peat came the same way last year’s repeat effort did: a neck-and-neck battle between two teams who have played each other in three of the last four 2A District 6 title contests. West Jefferson could not miss early, ending the first quarter up 14-8 after three lead changes thanks to a 7-0 run in the last 2:25. Williams, Kenadee Coles and Johnson went to work for Ririe in the second quarter, knotting the halftime score at 18-18 off a Coles shot with 12 seconds left.
The Panthers did not go away in the second half. West Jefferson’s Saige Moss, Shaylee Anhder and Jordi Holdaway prompted an 8-0 run to tie the game 26-26 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter before Ririe ended it up 29-26, and Kynlee Newman made three consecutive 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter to tie the game 35-35 at 4:35.
”It was fun to see her get those,” West Jefferson coach Jalena Dixon said. “She’s very confident and she’s a great senior leader.”
Jordi Holdaway put West Jefferson up 37-35 right after those 3s before free throws became a factor. West Jefferson went 2-for-4 from the line in the fourth quarter while Ririe went 6-for-9, including a 2-for-2 performance by Johnson with 1:46 left.
That foul shooting edge proved to be a difference maker.
“Tweak a couple things and hit a few more foul shots and it’s a different ball game,” Dixon said.
Johnson had 18 points while Williams added 10 for Ririe, which takes seed 6A into its seventh consecutive 2A state tournament appearance. Newman had 11 points and Holdaway added eight for West Jefferson (17-9), which takes seed 6B into its third state appearance in the last four seasons.
The 2A classification has been stacked this year, and there is potential for multiple state media poll ranked teams being on the same side of the bracket next week. Johnson said the Bulldogs are going to focus on the things they can control.
“We’re not really worried about what other teams are doing,” Johnson said. “We worked really hard all summer. We’ve stayed busy. We’ve been in these games before.”