CALDWELL — There was one piece of net left to cut, and Colby Blaine had the scissors.
The College of Idaho’s first-year head coach climbed to the top step of the ladder, snipped the final piece and held the net high in the air as he soaked in a moment 12 years in the making Tuesday.
Many of the 1,456 fans in attendance stuck around and cheered loudly as Blaine and the Yotes celebrated a second straight Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament championship with a 70-55 win over Southern Oregon.
But this one was different for Blaine. It was his first career title as a head coach.
“I’ve coached for 12 years and this is the fifth time I’ve been part of a conference tournament championship, but the first time as a head coach,” Blaine said. “It’s an incredible feeling to hold this net for my first time as a head coach. These kids deserved it and that’s the rewarding part.”
Senior Matt Meyers had 19 points and Connor Desaulniers had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Yotes, who also got 11 points from Nate Bruneel and 10 from Talon Pinckney.
Blaine spent four years as an assistant for the Yotes under coach Scott Garson and was part of two conference tournament titles the past four years. He was promoted to head coach when Garson took a job as an assistant coach at Santa Clara after the Yotes reached the National Semifinals of the NAIA Division II National Tournament last March.
And with big expectations on his shoulders, Blaine picked up right where Garson left off.
The Yotes (28-5) celebrated a conference championship on their home floor for the fourth time in the past six years and punched their ticket to the National Tournament for the fifth time since 2014.
“I was sitting on the bench before the game and just kind of took a few deep breaths and looked around and really took in the fact that this place is so special,” senior Berryhill said. “It’s been so special the past four years and there was no other way I wanted to go out than like this. It’s just amazing.
“Coach Blaine did an amazing job and this team did an amazing job. It’s just a real testament to our culture.”
The Yotes got off to a slow start and trailed 19-13 midway through the first half, but responded with a 13-4 run to lead 26-23. They pushed the lead to 33-25 on a 3-pointer from Berryhill and led 33-27 at the break.
C of I kept it rolling in the second half and led 37-27 on a pair of buckets from Pinckney, including an acrobatic one in which he flipped the ball up over his shoulder and banked it in off the glass. The Yotes extended the lead to 44-32, but three straight buckets from Southern Oregon’s Tate Hoffman brought the Raiders within 46-39 with 13:10 to go.
But Berryhill stopped the run with a long 3-pointer and the Yotes never were threatened again. They led by at least seven points the rest of the way and opened the lead to as many as 18 points in the final minutes.
“We had no flow in the beginning and we just couldn’t make shots, but then we kind of jumped on them late in the first half and in the second half we just pulled away,” said Meyers, who had 16 of his 19 points in the first half. “We knew our time would come. We really relied on our defense, holding them to 55 points.
“It just feels great. All the work we put in this season, we really wanted to repeat from last year and that was a really special team and now this is a special team. It’s a great feeling.”
But nobody in the building probably felt better than the 31-year-old Blaine, who got an unwanted start to his coaching career in the fall of 2007 following two years as a guard at Blue Mountain Community College. He transferred to Montana Western but was cut from the team in the first month.
“The coach called me in and said I know you want to be a coach, so why don’t we get your career started early,” Blaine joked. “He said you’re just not good enough. But it turned out to be a blessing because it started my coaching career as a student assistant and who knows what would have happened.”
He spent two years as a student assistant at Montana Western and five years as an assistant at the College of Southern Idaho before joining the Yotes in 2015.
And it all led up to Tuesday at the J.A. Albertson Activites Center in Caldwell, where he celebrated his first ever conference title as the man in charge.
Blaine and the Yotes will now await today’s reveal of the bracket for the NAIA Division II National Tournament, and they’ll leave Saturday for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After coming two wins shy of a national championship last year, they’ll look to finish the job starting a week from today.
“What we found out last year is that we’re on track to compete for a national championship,” Blaine said. “Our guys are super confident. They really believe we can make a run.”