Cheers and applause were already beginning to rise from the Rigby bench and the maroon-clad faithful in the stands with 35 seconds left in regulation of last week's 5A District 5-6 girls basketball championship game.
Rigby's bench emptied and the celebrations began once the final buzzer sounded to conclude the Trojans' 68-56 win over Thunder Ridge, their second win over the Titans in five days. The win gave the Trojans their first back-to-back district titles since 2012, when they won two in a row in 4A.
This year's title, however, was won on their home court.
"Just because it's my senior year, it's a little more exciting," said Rigby senior Ruby Murdoch, whose free-throw shooting last year helped the then seeded No. 2 Trojans defeat No. 1 seeded Highland for the district title in Pocatello. "I love my teammates so much. I'm speechless."
Feb. 11 was the fourth meeting this season between the No. 1 seeded Trojans (19-5) and No. 2 seeded Titans (16-9), who met five days earlier in a semifinal won by Rigby 49-48 thanks to Murdoch going 3-for-3 from the foul line with three seconds left. The district game was a complete contrast to the Feb. 6 contest as only one lead change occurred as opposed to nine, and it did not come down to late game heroics.
Murdoch, who had 14 points Feb. 11, chalked that up to ample preparation. The Trojans attended the Feb. 8 elimination game between Thunder Ridge and Madison so they would know right away who they would play for the district title.
"Our coaches had us so much more prepared for this game than the last one," Murdoch said. "I think that showed on the court. Our teamwork was fantastic."
That preparation was displayed in the form of multiple scorers and strong defense. By the end of the first quarter, Rigby led 15-13 and had points from four different players. The Trojans' only deficit the entire night came within the first minute of the game when Thunder Ridge's Paige Clark converted a steal into a layup. Not even 30 seconds later, Brooke Donnelly hit a 3-pointer to put Rigby ahead.
By halftime, with Rigby leading 36-25, the teams had hit a combined eight 3-pointers, including five in the second quarter. Five more 3s fell in the third quarter--one from Thunder Ridge's Lauren Davenport, one each from Donnelly and Rigby teammate Tylie Jones and two in a row from Murdoch--and the quarter ended with a 55-42 Rigby lead thanks to a Donnelly layup at the buzzer.
"The funny thing is, our goal was to get off the glass layups," Rigby coach Troy Shippen said with a laugh. "The 3-ball ended up helping us out. I'm just so proud of these girls."
The third quarter was the last time the Titans cut their deficit to single digits, and that Davenport 3 brought Thunder Ridge within 41-36. The Trojans led by at least 12 the entire fourth quarter, however, en route to the win, finishing the night 9-for-13 from 3-point range and 5-for-9 from the foul line.
Thunder Ridge coach Jeremy Spencer said the Titans did a good job limiting Jones and Donnelly to single-digit scoring in the second half, but then Murdoch had 12 points in the second half.
"They came out and they were the aggressor tonight," Spencer said. "Their big 3s stepped up."
Clark had 18 points, Davenport had 15 and was 3-for-7 on 3-pointers and freshman Kennedy Stenquist came off the bench to score 13 points for Thunder Ridge, which faced District 3's No. 5 seed team Feb. 15 in a state play-in game at American Falls. Clark had nine of the Titans' 13 first quarter points and sent Thunder Ridge on a 6-3 run to start the third quarter.
"She's a team captain," Spencer said. "She took that upon herself to really be aggressive on the rim. I'm really proud of her tonight."
Donnelly had a game-high 20 points and was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and Jones had 16 points for Rigby, which begins the 5A state tournament tomorrow versus District 3's No. 4 seed at 6:15 p.m. at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
"Last year we were getting that experience of making it to the 5A state tournament," Murdoch said. "This year we're looking to compete and hang with those Boise schools."
Shippen said a supportive and positive community has encouraged Rigby's junior-laden team this season on the way to their repeat district title and state tournament berth.
Family is how Donnelly, one of Rigby's nine juniors on varsity, described the 2019-20 Trojans.
"We're a loving team," Donnelly said. "We work really hard in practice. We never argue. We're all friends and it carries over onto the court."
RIGBY 68, THUNDER RIDGE 56
Thunder Ridge 13 12 17 14--56
Rigby 15 21 19 13--68
THUNDER RIDGE--Kennedy Stenquist 13, Sierra John 2, Paige Clark 18, Lauren Davenport 15, Aspen Caldwell 6, Avery Turnage 2.
RIGBY--Ruby Murdoch 14, Tylie Jones 16, Hallie Boone 9, Victoria Briggs 3, Kiersten Raymond 2, Brooke Donnelly 20, Brindy Shipper 4.