BOISE – Until Thursday afternoon, one had to go back 43 years to find the last time a Sandpoint High boys basketball team had won a game at state.
The drought ended when Sandpoint handled Bishop Kelly 60-53 in a State 4A tournament opener at Borah High School.
Now the Bulldogs are a win away from playing for a state championship.
Sandpoint (10-14) will face Pocatello (13-14) tonight at 5:15 PST in the semifinals. Pocatello upset Hillcrest 61-58.
In other openers, Jerome handled Mountain Home 64-42 and top-ranked Skyview slipped past Blackfoot 66-62.
Skyview (24-0) meets Jerome (23-2) in the other semifinal.
Sandpoint 60, Bishop Kelly 53: The Bulldogs continued their end-of-season charge that began with a regional-opening loss.
The Bulldogs played well from the opening tip. They never trailed by more than two points, and that was just for a brief moment.
“I don’t say hardest very often, but these guys play harder than any team I’ve had,” Sandpoint coach Tyler Haynes said. “These kids have a lot of character.”
It was Sandpoint’s first victory at state since 1966 when the Bulldogs beat Mountain Home. No matter what happens tonight, they’re guaranteed a chance to play for their first state trophy since 1956.
“It’s been a long time,” Haynes said.
Just four Bulldogs scored, and three of them – seniors Tanner French and Spencer Swerin and junior Stefan Buratto – provided the bulk of the scoring. French had a game-high 22 points, Swerin had 18 and Buratto added 13.
French, the Bulldogs’ point guard, was especially effective driving through Bishop Kelly’s defense.
“He’s been in this environment,” Haynes said of French, alluding to his point guard playing in state title games in soccer. “You’re not surprised when someone with that much state experience steps up and plays well.”
Sandpoint seemed to have things in control when Swerin made two free throws to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 49-40 with 6:22 remaining.
But a couple of turnovers by the Bulldogs allowed the Knights to hang around longer than Haynes desired.
“We were lucky – we had some defensive stands,” Haynes said. “We had a lull. That kind of lull at state can really hurt you. We were able to come back and counter defensively and hold them off.”
French didn’t know how to explain how well Sandpoint has played in the last week.
“I guess we made history (today),” said French, who also had six rebounds, four steals and two assists. “It’s a blast to be a part of it. In the beginning (of the season) we played not to lose. I’m kind of at a loss for words.”
Haynes knew his team had potential.
“A lot of people have counted them out for a long time, and for good reason,” Haynes said. “There have been times we haven’t looked very impressive. (But) they’ve never counted themselves out.”
Priest River 50, Filer 49: The Intermountain League champion Spartans had just enough to hold off the Wildcats.
Jake Weimer led PR (19-1) with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Eric Holbrook added 13.
The Spartans meet Shelley (15-11) in the semifinals tonight at 7 PST.
In the other semifinal, defending state champ Fruitland (21-2) takes on Sugar-Salem (23-3).
Sugar-Salem 52, St. Maries 46: The Lumberjacks closed the gap in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough as the Diggers prevailed.
Aaron Corsi led the Lumberjacks (17-5) with 18 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists.
St. Maries will meet Snake River (14-9) in a loser-out game today at 12:15.
1A Division I
Hagerman 66, Wallace 45: The Pirates were too much for the Miners.
After building a 36-25 lead by halftime, Hagerman broke it open by outscoring Wallace (15-7) 19-5 in the third quarter.
Hagerman held the Miners’ leading scorer, Jared Bilaski, to 10 points. Nick Arthun led Wallace with 13 and Tanner Owen led the Pirates (22-4) with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Wallace faces Cascade (16-8) in a loser-out game today at 12:15 PST.