The final 24 minutes turned into a disaster for Owyhee on Friday.
Shots stopped falling. A big lead went up in smoke. The Storm even trailed three times.
But Owyhee, which rolled to lopsided wins all season, gritted out a 53-50 double-overtime win over Meridian in the 5A state tournament semifinals to punch its ticket to Saturday’s championship game.
Owyhee (23-3) will face conference rival Centennial (16-10), the tournament’s lowest seed, for the state title at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center.
“That second half was terrible,” Owyhee coach Andy Harrington said. “I don’t know how we won, but we found a way.
“The toughest team wins.”
The Storm needed every ounce of that toughness to dispatch Meridian (18-10). The defending state champs trailed by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, as Owyhee put on an offensive showcase. But Meridian slowly chipped away, until freshman Zeke Martinez canned a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the score at 44 with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter.
That kicked off a chess match, with both teams draining the clock and trying to hold for the final shot. Neither could deliver a fatal blow in the fourth quarter or the first overtime, though. It took a steal by Owyhee junior Barrett Fernandez with 1:13 left in double overtime to finally tip the scales.
The steal set up junior Titus Bailey for a pair of free throws, with the Storm trailing by one at the time. The transfer from Capital calmly sank both for a 51-50 lead with 1:01 left. Then senior Jack Payne drilled two more free throws with 21.8 seconds left for the final margin.
“We kind of got rocked,” Payne said. “They punched us in the face, but we somewhat recovered. I mean, we double-overtime recovered. It was a lot of fun.”
Bailey led the Storm with 18 points and seven rebounds. He also delivered a key 3-pointer in double overtime off an inbound play to finally break the basket-for-basket stalemate that sent the game to two overtimes.
“For Titus to come over from Capital, where they didn’t win a lot of games, early in the year his confidence was a little low,” Harrington said. “But that dude has been one of the best players around the last month of the season.”
Payne turned in another good all-around performance, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds and two assists. But the Colorado State commit’s most memorable moment came on the sideline.
A cut on his back reopened in the fourth quarter with Owyhee nursing a three-point lead. Referees discovered blood on his jersey and ordered him to change it. Then they discovered blood on his shorts and told him those needed to go, too.
Payne headed toward the locker room before teammate Reece Sasser-Gunson stopped him on the bench, ripped off his shorts and offered them to Payne — to laughs from the crowd. Payne convinced him to pull his shorts back up and make the switch in the tunnel that leads to the locker room.
Owyhee had to burn a timeout, but Payne didn’t miss a second of the game.
“We’ll definitely have to cover that with Reese later,” Harrington joked. “But that was a big-time play.”
The win keeps Owyhee’s quest to match history alive. No Idaho team has won a 5A boys or girls basketball state title in its first season since the Lake City girls in 1995.
The newest West Ada District high school could join that club with its 20th straight victory Saturday.
“I said it at the beginning of the game, ‘Let’s make history,’” Payne said. “It’s the first-ever state tournament in school history. It’s pretty insane. We’re going to have a lot of fun tomorrow.”
Ethan Pearce scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Martinez scored 12 points for Meridian, which will face Rigby (17-9) in the third-place game at noon Saturday at Rocky Mountain.