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Girls basketball: Highland beats Madison in winner-to-state game

By JEFF PAPWORTH | Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO – Highland’s route through 5A District 5-6 could be best described over the years as circuitous and unaesthetic, but always ending with a flourish.

This season was no different.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal
Highland’s Makenna Baker (3) passes between Rexburg’s Brielle Hammond (3), left and Kayeli Wasden (1) during their team out playoff Thursday evening at Highland.

The Rams (15-9) sealed a bid to the 5A state tournament Thursday after a winding season, beating Madison 49-30 in the 5A District 5-6 winner-to-state game at Highland High School. It is the fourth consecutive season the Rams clinched the district’s second seed to state.

“We come together as a team normally at the end,” Rams guard Makenna Baker said. “We play a little better just being around each other and stuff. I think that’s why.”

Just like past seasons, Baker stepped up in the second-place game for the third consecutive year, scoring a game-high 23 points to bounce back from a three-point game in Tuesday’s loss against Bonneville in the district title game.

Baker scored 15 of her points in the second half, making sure Madison (12-13) did not come back from a 22-11 halftime deficit. The junior was wringing every point she could out of the Highland offense. In the third quarter, she went coast-to-coast for two points in the final seconds. When she missed a free throw at the end of the fourth, she displayed a look of disgust.

“Makenna was phenomenal,” Madison coach Traci Peterson said. “She led her team. She stepped up. She took shots when she needed to. She got kids the ball when she needed to. I just thought Makenna played a great ball game.”

Baker’s high-scoring performance follows last season’s winner-to-state game, when she made two game-deciding free throws in a 45-43 win against Bonneville, and when she scored 22 points in 2016 to nab the district’s second state seed with a 54-36 win over Idaho Falls.

Her backcourt mate the entire way has been Highland senior Lexi Rowe, who scored 11 points and led a staunch defensive effort by the Rams. Highland held Madison to eight points in the second and third quarters combined.

At the same time, the Rams got their offense going, with a 14-2 run in the latter half of the second quarter to build an 11-point lead. The margin never dipped below nine points the rest of the game.

Madison’s 30 points tied for the team’s fourth-lowest of the season. The Bobcats featured three scorers in Hannah Wilson, Bethany Dow and Brielle Hammond, who scored 14, 11 and five points, respectively.

“We’re really quick on the guard line,” Highland coach Tony Green said. “So we like to pressure the ball, make them uncomfortable and not let them run offense. And for this specific game, we wanted to get in front of Hannah Wilson and not let her catch the ball.”

Madison, which went 1-3 against Highland this season, found a way to disrupt the Rams’ offense in the first quarter with a 2-3 zone. Hammond scored the last basket of the period to tie the game. But offensive woes – that dogged the Bobcats during the season – persisted.

“We’ve had difficulties scoring all year long,” Peterson said. “We needed our guards to step up a little bit. We struggled shooting. When that happens, we’re going to struggle in the post because you’ve got to be able to hit some shots outside in order to get the ball back in on the post.”

While the Bobcats go home, Highland faces the 5A District 3 runner-up — either Eagle or Borah — on Feb. 15 at the Ford Idaho Center in what will be the Rams’ 11th consecutive state tournament appearance, with eight under Green.

“We feel very lucky,” Green said. “To be honest with you, there’s no secret thing that we’re doing. We’ve got really good players who expect to be there and they do the right things and we just feel fortunate.”

Madison 8 3 5 14 — 30
Highland 8 14 10 17 — 49
MADISON (30) – Bethany Dow 11, Brielle Hammond 5, Hannah Wilson 14.
Highland (49) — Makenna Baker 23, Lexi Rowe 11, Mary Calley 2, Sevana Spoklie 2, Allie Thayne 6, Kimberly Hawes 2, Meghan Calley 3.

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