CALDWELL, Idaho — Prairie boss Kevin Chaffee holds a distinction that not many others can claim.
In each of his three seasons at the helm, his teams have taken one game away from Lapwai, which generally sits atop the Class 1A Division I rankings.
Two years ago, he did it at Districts, but Prairie was upended by the Wildcats in the state title ga,e. Last year, he did it in the regular season, but the Pirates didn’t get a shot at Lapwai in the tournament.
This season, his Pirates from Cottonwood did the improbable — they smacked the Wildcats out of the chute, leading from front to back to earn a dominant 59-42 win in the semifinals of the 1A D-I boys’ basketball tournament at Vallivue High.
It means there’ll be a Whitepine League Division I showdown in the championship game. Prairie and Potlatch play for the crown today at 10:30 a.m. PST at Nampa’s Idaho Center.
Prairie (21-7) and its crowd roared with merriment. It avenged its title loss in 2017 and two earlier defeats this season to the Wildcats. The Pirates also dashed Lapwai’s dreams of a three-peat, which would’ve been the first time the school achieved the feat since the renowned teams of the late 1980s.
“I told my guys that we could do this, and they believed me,” Chaffee said. “They’re all troopers.”
He’s right. After a districts loss to the Loggers, the Pirates had to win four games in six days to even reach the tournament. But on Friday, it’s safe to assume that Prairie might’ve beaten anyone in the classification — it shot 51 percent, held Lapwai (19-5) under 30 percent, limited league MVP Payton Sobotta to 1-of-13, had every ounce of momentum and four double-figure scorers, with all-league post Spencer Schumacher leading the pack.
“We carried (adversity) on our shoulders all season,” Schumacher said. “We just grinded out those four games, then grinded out a tough game (Thursday). Of course, Lapwai always comes to play. We got out on top, kept the lead and came out with a win.”
Schumacher was a force. The 6-5 Montana Tech football commit (defensive end), was hardly challenged. He poured in a game-high 20 points and pulled down a bout-best 15 rebounds for the Pirates, who started to run away midway through the second quarter, when they went up 23-13.
“I was thinking, ‘Get every rebound, give them no second chances,’” Schumacher said of his night. “They’re good shooters, so the more chances they get, the higher chance there is that they’ll make it. I had to grab every rebound and do what I do underneath.”
Besides devouring every board in his sights against the undersized Wildcats, Schumacher manufactured space through hesitation moves, then drew contact and flipped in gimmes — for him, at least.
Fellow post Devin Ross also had a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards.
In all, Prairie fine-tuned its old self — which Lapwai handled by 14 and 10 earlier this year — and launched a new-look approach that the Wildcats had no answers for.
“We play man-to-man most of the time, but we played zone to slow them down,” Chaffee said. “We had patience on the offensive end of the floor, shared the ball and made them work on defense. They wanna speed you up, that’s what they like.”
The Pirates’ “intensity” reached an all-time high, noted Schumacher, while its scheme to not “run with them” effectively turned the Wildcats sluggish.
Yet Prairie was spirited and on point. It assisted on 13 of 21 field goals — when say, Dylan Schumacher glided into the paint, he’d drop one off last-minute, instead of attempting to finish it himself in traffic.
There was always someone waiting to nab apt dishes, and the majority were finished underneath.
It furnished balance. Sam Mager piled up 14 points and Damian Forsmann chipped in 12 for the Pirates, who grew ever-more confident as the lead swelled.
“They really like to double the big guys,” Chaffee said. “We just needed to move the ball around.”
Though, late in the third, Lapwai did find itself. The Wildcats rallied on an 11-2 run spearheaded by Titus Yearout and Kendall Leighton, who drove inside or hit midrange jumpers, to make it a game.
They led Lapwai with 18 and 12 points, respectively, but once Prairie regrouped, it sailed to an insurmountable lead and into the title game.
“It’s pretty high-octane; this is almost like a state championship game because it’s a small-gym atmosphere,” Chaffee said. “We were all pretty happy in the locker room, but there’s one more game. We wanna bring that trophy home.”
Kendall Leighton 4 2-2 12, Titus Yearout 7 2-2 18, Payton Sobotta 1 2-4 4, Maceo Henry 1 0-0 2, Sandro Domebo 0 0-0 0, Tui Moliga 0 0-0 0, Pox Young 0 0-0 0, JJ Reuben 3 0-0 6, AJ Ellenwood 0 0-0 0, Kross Taylor 0 0-0 0, Sonny Reuben 0 0-0 0, JC Sobotta 0 0-0 0, Lydell Mitchell 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 6-8 42.
Hayden Uhlenkott 0 0-0 0, Taylor Ott 0 0-0 0, Dylan Schumacher 1 0-0 2, Cole Schlader 0 1-2 1, Sam Mager 5 4-6 14, Owen Anderson 0 0-0 0, Damian Forsmann 4 4-4 12, Devin Ross 4 2-4 10, Spencer Schumacher 7 6-13 20, Derik Shears 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 17-29 59.
Lapwai 9 4 15 14—42
Prairie 13 15 11 20—59
Three-point goals — Leighton 2, Yearout 2. Total fouls — Lapwai 21, Prairie 12. Fouled out — Domebo, Schlader.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @coltonclark95 or by phone at (208) 848-2260.