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State 2A boys basketball championship: Green is gold once again ... St. Maries wills its way to first title since 1960

Sports Editor | March 7, 2021 1:25 AM

NAMPA — Amid the confusion in the closing seconds, Tristan Gentry took the inbounds pass, dribbled up the sideline with the clock running out, and flung the ball high into the air moments before the horn sounded.

Sixty-one years later, the St. Maries Lumberjacks are state champions again.

St. Maries made big plays late for the second time in less than 24 hours, and edged the Ambrose Archers of Meridian 51-50 in the state 2A boys basketball championship game Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center for the Lumberjacks’ first state title since 1960, and second in school history.

“It’s surreal; it’s overwhelming. I don’t even know how to process my emotions right now. I’m kinda numb at the moment,” said Gentry, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, including a couple of HUGE offensive rebounds off missed free throws in the closing minutes. “And this one wasn’t even the most wild one we had.”

No, that would be Friday night, when Colby Renner hit a 30-foot 3-pointer — his only basket of the game — to lift St. Maries past two-time defending champion North Fremont 45-43 in the semifinals.

“After that game last night we were like, ‘Holy cow,’” we’ve just got to finish this tomorrow,” said Renner, who finished with nine points in the title game.

And St. Maries (23-1) did — though the Lumberjacks, who led by 10 points late in the third quarter, had to respond after Ambrose (21-3) took a 50-45 lead with 1:47 left.

St. Maries senior Eli Gibson hit the first of two free throws with 1:26 left. He missed the second but Gentry, a 6-foot-5 junior, grabbed the rebound and scored to pull the Lumberjacks within 50-48.

Gibson was fouled again with 58.5 seconds left. Again he made the first free throw and missed the second, but Gentry grabbed the offensive rebound, was fouled, and sank two free throws with 56.8 seconds left to put St. Maries up one.

“I was able to push him (the Ambrose player) under the hoop — not really push him, but nudge him under the hoop. I guessed I out-jumped him and that’s it,” Gentry said. “We’ve lost games in the past because guys didn’t rebound, or box out, so that’s what I always focus on.”

Ambrose opted to hold the ball for the last shot. With the clock winding down, junior guard Johnny Sugarman, who led all scorers with 20 points, tried to knife his way between a couple of St. Maries defenders. He ended up putting up a wild, scooping layin try from just inside to foul line that missed. The ball was knocked over top of the backboard and out of bounds — St. Maries ball with 3 seconds left.

“What was going through my head was No. 1 (Sugarman) was going to take a crazy shot and make it, honestly,” Gentry said.

Ambrose railed for a foul call on the play. Meanwhile, St. Maries inbounded the ball to Gentry, all alone in the far corner, and Ambrose couldn’t catch him to foul in time. Ambrose moved up a classification after winning the 1A Division I title last year.

“I kinda went and hid in the corner, and ran up the (sideline) and threw it up in the air,” Gentry said. “It was a feeling of relief.”

“My coaches wanted to get a timeout, but it looked like they (Ambrose) weren’t quite organized yet,” St. Maries coach Bryan Chase said. “My gut instinct was to let them go with that, and if they got in trouble, I was going to use it. That just shows how smart these kids are; they have a good basketball IQ; it showed last night with Eli calling that timeout (at midcourt, with .6 seconds left, setting up Renner’s winning shot). They’re just a smart group of kids.”

Gibson is the lone remaining Lumberjack to play in St. Maries’ overtime loss to North Fremont two years ago in the state title game. He nearly won that game for the ‘Jacks in regulation, but his driving layin rolled off the rim at the buzzer, forcing overtime.

“It’s stuck with me since it happened,” said Gibson, who finished with eight points, four rebounds and two assists. “I watched that game for the first time, maybe two days ago, It hurt, and to finally come in here and finish it is awesome.”

“We brought the picture down from two years ago, where Eli and I are crying,” Chase said. “We’ve looked at it the last couple of days, and it just kept inspiring me to stay up late and game plan and get ready. And I know these guys were focused all week long, and we did walkthroughs for an hour and a half each day, getting ready for each opponent, and we scouted the teams out. It says a lot about what they wanted to get done down here.”

Senior Randie Becktel added 10 points and seven rebounds for St. Maries, which outrebounded Ambrose 32-21.

St. Maries led most of the first half, and two late baskets from Becktel sent the Lumberjacks into the locker room up 23-18. Coleman Ross fed a pass to Becktel for a 39-29 St. Maries lead late in the third before the Archers made four 3-pointers in a 21-6 run to take the lead.

But St. Maries wasn’t finished. And in its seventh straight trip to state, the Lumberjacks brought home a trophy for the fifth time during that span.

Finally, the one they wanted.

“It feels overdue,” Gibson said. “We’ve had, I don’t know how many good teams come through, and we’ve come so close. Everyone disrespects the North, and finally being able to finish it and show them that the North can come down South and play is huge for us.”

Ambrose, which made 24 of 54 (44%) 3s in the first two tourney games, made just 1 of 10 from behind the arc in the first half of the title game. The Archers made 7 of 14 3s in the second half.

Junior Hudson Hughes (averaging 17.6 per game), who had scored 40 in the first two tourney games, was saddled with foul trouble on Saturday, was scoreless in the first half. He finished with three points -- the 3 that put Ambrose up 48-45 with 2:40 to play.

Senior guard Ben Blythe scored all 19 of his points in the second half, hitting 4 of 5 3s for the game.

“They’re really good defensively, and we knew that coming in,” Ambrose coach Ken Sugarman said of St. Maries. “They’re just really sound; they all move well together, they take away driving lanes well, they deal with screens well. They’re just well disciplined on the defensive end, and I thought, especially tonight, they were probably the most disciplined I’ve ever seen them in their shot selection. And obviously that pays big dividends in a state championship game. Hats off to them … it was a war.”

Ambrose 8 10 14 18 — 50

St. Maries 13 10 16 12 — 51

AMBROSE — J. Sugarman 20, T. Hughes 0, Johnson 2, Blythe 19, Hansell 2, H. Hughes 3, Turley 0, Boeck 4. 17-47 8-9 50.

ST. MARIES — Sands 4, Wolfe 0, Ross 4, Becktel 10, Gentry 16, Stancil 0, Gibson 8, Ledbetter 0, Renner 9. Totals 17-36 17-22 51.


JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY St. Maries senior guard Eli Gibson drives down the court during the state 2A boys basketball championship game at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa on Saturday.


JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY St. Maries junior forward Tristan Gentry pulls up for a jumper during Saturday's state 2A boys basketball championship game at the Ford Idaho Center.


JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY St. Maries senior Carson Wicks shows off the state 2A boys basketball championship trophy to a cheering Lumberjack fans after a 51-50 win over Ambrose of Meridian on Saturday morning at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. It is the program's first title since 1960.