CALDWELL, Idaho — The Lapwai boys’ basketball team has played in a lot of state championship games in the history of its program — 14 of them, if you’re keeping track — but that doesn’t make the achievement any less special.
You could see it when coach Zachary Eastman pumped his fist back and forth while he looked up at the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, his team closing in on a win. You could feel it when Lapwai’s bench flexed and gestured after big plays. You could hear it when “Idaho! Center!” was shouted from inside Lapwai’s locker room after the game. Yes, reaching title game No. 15 might have looked easy for the Wildcats, but the importance of the feat isn’t forgotten.
Lapwai ran past Grace 69-47 on Thursday in the semifinal round of the Class 1A Division I state tournament at Vallivue High School. The Wildcats (19-4) face Riverstone at 1 p.m. Pacific today for the title at the Idaho Center in Nampa.
The storied program played in four consecutive championship games from 2015-18, but hadn’t earned a return visit until this year.
“This started at the beginning of the season, man. We started putting in the work, we started getting our team chemistry. It all led up to this game, this point,” Lapwai star junior Titus Yearout said. “It feels great, man. My first year going to the Idaho Center. We’re hungry.”
Yearout’s 26 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals led Lapwai’s composed all-around effort. Freshman Kase Wynott added 19 points, Kross Taylor had 11 and Terrell Ellenwood-Jones chipped in nine as the Wildcats shot 58.7 percent overall, 6-of-11 on 3-pointers and 9-for-11 from the free-throw line.
In two state tournament games, Lapwai has combined to make 54.7 percent of its field goals.
“We really tried to get a lot of ball movement,” Eastman said. “We have a lot of weapons, so when you have a lot of weapons, sometimes it’s hard not to (play) 1-on-1 basketball. So we really try to emphasize moving the basketball, finding mismatches.”
Taylor and Ellenwood-Jones connected on back-to-back 3s to give Lapwai an 8-0 run and a 60-39 lead early in the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, Yearout threw down a two-handed slam in transition to make it 68-43. Cue the fist pumps and flexes.
Those were the exclamation points of a second half that was owned by the Wildcats. They led a resilient Grace team 32-27 at halftime, but started to pull away in the third, making five consecutive shots at one point to surge ahead 52-39. Lapwai’s defense clamped down and held the Grizzlies (11-13) to 31.8 percent shooting during the final two quarters.
Grace made 44 percent of its shots before halftime, never trailing by more than 10 points.
“They did a great job (against) our zone, so we made some adjustments on our zone,” Eastman said. “Our boys listened perfectly and we ended up getting defensive stops and that’s what won us the game was playing defense.”
The meeting was the fifth in recent years between Lapwai and Grace. The teams previously played each other at this stage in 2016, 2017, 2018 and last year — a 57-48 Grizzlies win that sent the Wildcats to the third-place game.
That served as incentive. So do the state championship banners that hang in Lapwai High School’s gym. One more win, and these Wildcats can claim one for themselves.
“Every time we go into the gym, we look up, we see the banners hanging on the wall, and that’s just our motivation,” Yearout said. “We play for our family, we play for our crowd, we play for Lapwai, man.”
Terrell Ellenwood-Jones 2 4-5 9, Titus Yearout 11 2-2 26, Kross Taylor 4 1-2 11, Chris Brown 0 0-0 0, Jenz Kash Kash 0 0-0 0, JC Sobotta 0 0-0 0, Kase Wynott 8 2-2 19, Ahlius Yearout 0 0-0 0, Alexander Ellenwood 2 0-0 4, Promise Shawl 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 9-11 69.
William Mickelson 0 0-0 0, Ty Gilbert 2 1-2 6, Gage Stoddard 6 2-3 17, Treyson Draper 2 0-0 4, Colston Froehlich 0 0-0 0, Makay Taggart 1 0-0 3, Trevor Judd 0 0-0 0, Payton Reeves 0 0-0 0, Tytan Andersen 3 0-0 6, Bridger Sorenson 0 0-0 0, Payson Andersen 2 0-0 5, Dallon Draper 2 2-3 6, Grey Gibbs 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 5-8 47.
Lapwai 17 15 20 17—69
Grace 11 16 12 8—47
3-point goals — T. Yearout 2, Taylor 2, Ellenwood-Jones, Wynott, Stoddard 3, Gilbert, Taggart, P. Andersen.
Guernsey may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, (208) 848-2268 or on Twitter @MD_Guernsey.