Hillcrest vs. Skyline girls basketball

Skyline players cheer after a basket in the 4A District 6 championship game versus Hillcrest on Feb. 2 at Idaho Falls High School.

The 4A District 6 girls basketball tournament created chatter around eastern Idaho inside and outside of 4A the last two weeks.

The chatter began Jan. 29 when No. 4-seeded Skyline handed No. 1 seed Bonneville its first loss of the season, 50-44, and continued Jan. 30 when No. 3 seeded Hillcrest defeated No. 2 seed Blackfoot 38-34.

Hillcrest and Skyline met Feb. 2 for the 4A District 6 championship in which the Knights prevailed 45-37 to claim the title and return to state for the first time since 2016. Skyline was eliminated five days later in a 62-57 loss to Blackfoot. Grizz head coach Ty Keck said after the game that he knew from the beginning of the season that his team would take its lumps, but would be playing at a higher level by districts.

“Every day our whole motto was, ‘We gotta get a little bit better every day,’” Keck said. “When we got to the district tournament, I told my coaches, ‘We’re playing the right basketball at the right time.’ I think people should look at Skyline and say, ‘They’re a force to be reckoned with.”

Keck said one of Skyline’s biggest points of emphasis toward the end of the regular season was a strong defensive philosophy. From Jan. 17 to their district game versus Bonneville, the Grizzlies allowed an average of 41.4 points per game. Keck credits that to his team buying into that defensive philosophy.

“As we start exploiting the weaknesses of other teams, they bought into those philosophies,” Keck said. “We kept preaching it, kept practicing it. We kept pounding individual defense, team defense. As we got to the last couple games the girls were like, ‘We’re holding teams to low 40s.’”

This is the farthest Skyline had made it in a district tournament since the 2013-14 season, when the Grizzlies fell to Hillcrest in a winner-to-state elimination game. Keck described this year’s 4A District 6 tournament as the most wild and most fun he’s seen since he’s been head coach. He added that it has given his players a hunger for more and has brought the district to an even playing field.

“This is what honestly girls basketball needs in this area,” Keck said. “As young and inexperienced as we were, our philosophy is teamwork gets us where we want to be. I think the girls have a little more of, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ It instills a belief that we’re here and we’ve made a statement.”

HISTORIC THREE-PEATS IN 3A, 2A

Two teams won their third consecutive district titles in consecutive days last week, with No. 1 seed Sugar-Salem defeating No. 3-seeded Teton 62-38 on Monday for the 3A District 6 title in Sugar City, and No. 1-seeded Ririe defeating No. 3 West Jefferson 41-39 for the 2A District 6 title in St. Anthony.

This is not Sugar-Salem’s first 3A District 6 title three-peat, as the Diggers accomplished the feat from 2008 to 2010 and 2013 to 2015. Head coach Crystal Dayley said it is difficult to do, especially when there was as much parity in the conference as this season.

“From the start of the season, I knew we would be pretty balanced,” Dayley said Saturday. “Teton qualified for state today winning two play-in games. I feel bad for South having to stay home. I think they could’ve done well over there, too. These kids, they’re fighters. They have that refuse to lose attitude. When things get tough, these kids play well under pressure.”

Sugar-Salem has prided itself on defense since Dayley, a 2001 Sugar-Salem graduate, became head coach in 2012. This season, however, has produced the highest scoring team she said she has ever coached. The Diggers are averaging 60 points per game and have six players averaging at least seven points per game, and that is after graduating five from last year’s 25-2 team.

“If you’ve would’ve told me in November this would be the highest scoring team I’ve ever coached, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Dayley said. “I think a lot of people expected this to be a down year for us. I knew going into this season we’d have solid defense, but offensively, we’ve surprised a lot of people. They play with a lot of heart. I think sometimes I would take that over talent as a coach.”

Ririe’s three-peat required some digging through the Post Register archives to put in perspective. The Bulldogs are the first team to win three consecutive 2A District 6 titles since Butte County, coached by Jason Hansen, did so from 2005 to 2007. Hansen’s Pirates took state runner-up in 2005 before winning back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007, including a 25-0 record in 2006. Ririe won the 2017 state championship and took second last season.

“Jason Hansen and I are good friends,” Ririe coach Damien Smith said Saturday. “He’s a phenomenal coach. From a coaching perspective, it’s pretty special to be in the same realm. Our girls have worked really hard.”

Based on the district banners hanging in Ririe’s gym, Smith said it is safe to say the 2019 seniors are the lone class to win three district titles in their careers. He added that each year produced memorable moments. Anna Boone and Maddie Johnson were starters in 2017 and their fellow sophomores subbed in later in the 64-25 win, Johnson passed to sophomore Indee Williams for the game-winning 3-pointer with six seconds left in the 33-31 win in 2018 and Johnson made the game-winning layup in Tuesday’s 41-39 win.

“We’ve talked as coaches how they’ve grown up as players and meeting expectations,” Smith said. “It hasn’t been an easy path to win those three. It makes them cherish it a little bit more.”

MISCELLANEOUS

-Two players surpassed 1,000 career points during the 2A District 6 tournament at South Fremont: West Jefferson’s Jordi Holdaway on Jan. 30 versus Firth and Firth’s Abby Schiess on Feb. 2 vs. Ririe. Holdaway is averaging 15.26 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 4.4 steals per game while Schiess ended her season averaging 14.04 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.6 assists per game.

-Of the seven District 6 teams to qualify for state, Blackfoot had the longest wait between postseasons. The Broncos’ last state tournament appearance was 2005, and their 21-4 record entering state is its best record since the 2007 season (18-5). That was also Blackfoot’s last winning season until the 2017-18 season. The Broncos won a combined four games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

-Of District 6 teams to win district titles this year, Rigby went the longest without one. The Trojans’ last district title came in 2012 in 4A District 6 upon defeating Upper Valley rival Madison 71-62 in the if-necessary game in Rexburg. Thursday was Rigby’s first district title at the 5A level.

Marlowe Hereford is a sports reporter for the Post Register. Contact her at 208-542-6772 and find her on Twitter at @mwhereford.

Marlowe Hereford has worked for the Post Register since August 2011. She has covered 11 different high school sports, Olympic sports and recreational sports.

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