NAMPA — Paul Yenor looked like he was going to run away with the 1A Division I state championship trophy.
The Ambrose boys basketball senior forward sprinted with it down the tunnel that leads toward the back exit of the Ford Idaho Center.
“I was thinking about it,” Yenor said while laughing.
It would have been completely understandable if he did.
Just six years ago, the thought of Ambrose winning a state title seemed pretty far-fetched. The school, which opened in 1995 in Meridian, was just making the state tournament for the first time.
The third-ranked Archers won the second title in program history and the first since 2016 with a 49-27 rout of No. 5 Grace in the 1A Division I state championship Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center.
“I was definitely really excited to go grab that thing cause I’ve seen my brother grab that and I’ve seen other people grab it and it made me a little mad,” Yenor said. “I think that fueled me. But grabbing that at the end, turning to the student section, turning to the parents, just seeing all them cheering, was amazing.”
Yenor’s older brother Travis, who is the second-leading scorer for Lewis-Clark State College, was part of the 2014 team that made state for the first time. Two short years later, he was cutting down the nets on a 25-2 team. Its only losses were to Centennial and Vallivue. Twenty-four of its wins were by double figures with a point differential of 30.4.
This year’s group was just as dominant.
The Archers finished 24-2 on their way to winning the Western Idaho Conference and District III titles. They had four wins against higher classification teams and 19 by double figures, including 4A Emmett. Ambrose had an average margin of victory of 28.3 points.
“I don’t know if I can go on record and say this, but I’m pretty sure we can take them,” Yenor said in regards to taking his older brother’s team.
Ambrose carried on the newfound winning tradition — a tradition that now features five district championships and six state trophies in a seven-year span.
“When they went to state for the first time, there was kind of a vision,” Ambrose coach Ken Sugarman said. “The thing that is unique about our school is we’re K-12 in one building. So these guys, were all in the stands watching older brothers win in the state tournament. And that sparked and motivating them. It set the expectation for winning.”
But the Archers almost didn’t have the opportunity to make room for another trophy, yet alone a blue one.
They were nearly knocked off in the semifinals by a team that had handed them their lone loss at the 1A level a month earlier.
No. 2 Potlatch snapped the 10-game winning streak of Ambrose, which was No. 1 at the time, in a 57-44 loss on Feb. 8. It dropped them from first to third in the state media poll. The Archers’ only other loss previously was a five-point defeat to Nampa Christian on Dec. 20.
”That was one of the turning points of the season,” Ambrose junior guard Ben Blythe said. “It was kind of morality check. After that, I think we started to play with more humility.”
Potlatch, meanwhile, entered state as arguably the favorite after a 67-50 beat down of top-ranked Lapwai in the District II championship game.
Ambrose and Potlatch met up again Friday with a berth in the state title game on the line. The Loggers erased a 24-9 halftime deficit and took a 37-35 lead with under a minute to go. But Yenor drew a foul and hit two free throws to send the game into overtime. Ambrose won 39-37.
The Archers rode that momentum Saturday.
Yenor scored the first basket of the game on a layup a little more than a minute in. His team then jumped out to a 14-4 lead after Hudson Hughes drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
And that was all Ambrose needed. Its lead never dipped below six.
Another 3-pointer by Hughes with 6:15 left in the third gave the Archers a 31-21 advantage. They led by double digits the rest of the game. Ambrose closed the game on a 12-0 run after not allowing the Grizzlies (16-11) to score for the final 10 minutes. Grace went 0-12 from the field in the fourth quarter against the classification’s top defense (36.6 points per game).
“I honestly looked up with about six minutes left in the game and I was like, ‘Are we really up 18?,’” Sugarman said. “The road to getting a chance to win is being about committed to defense.”
Yenor recorded a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds. Blyth added 13 points and five rebounds for the Archers, who are only losing two seniors. They move to the 2A classification next season.
LAKESIDE COMPLETES PERFECT SEASON FOR 1A DII TITLE: Kenyon Spotted Horse tallied a game-high 22 points, as the Knights (24-0) cruised by Cascade 74-57.
Day Day Higgins chipped in with a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Jayson Hall and Talon Twoteeth both had 12 points as well for Lakeside.
Cody Moosman scored 19 points for the Ramblers (20-5).