BOISE — In a game of pick your poison, Melba served up heaping doses of every option as the Mustangs cruised past New Plymouth 46-34 Friday evening in the semifinals of the State 2A girls basketball tournament.
Melba (21-4) used a stifling defense, tenacious rebounding, and sharp outside shooting to blow open a close game in the second quarter and earn a berth in the state finals for the second time in three years.
The Mustangs will face Bear Lake in the title game at the Idaho Center on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
New Plymouth (17-7) doubled down on Melba senior Kate Clark after she scored the first seven points of the second quarter as the Pilgrims fell behind 21-12.
Then Hallie Arnold stepped up.
“We were playing a zone defense that tries to force certain girls on their team to shoot the ball,” New Plymouth coach Denise Oliver said. “So, one of the girls we wanted to shoot, shot the ball, and she shot it very well.”
In a span of less than two minutes, Arnold hit three straight 3-pointers to expand Melba’s lead to 30-12 with 1:05 left in the first half.
“We tell Hallie that she’s a shooter and let her know we have confidence in her,” Melba coach David Lenz said. “And she made them tonight. That was really huge for her.”
Clark, who scored a game-high 19 points, pointed to Arnold’s shooting spree as the key to opening up the Mustangs’ offense in the second half.
“I was getting face-guarded the entire first half, so we needed somebody to step up,” Clark said. “Hallie’s confident enough to knock down those shots. (New Plymouth) had to adjust once other players started hitting shots, so she really helped us get going.”
Between Melba’s hot shooting and New Plymouth’s inability to get the ball inside, Melba’s 30-15 halftime lead seemed insurmountable. Melba’s dominance on the glass after the first quarter, outrebounding the Pilgrims 21-12 over that stretch, also stymied New Plymouth.
Melba led by as many as 18 points in the third quarter before New Plymouth tried to scratch its way back into the contest.
The Pilgrims got as close as the final margin of victory early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t chip away any further. Melba salted the game away with a ball-control offense that New Plymouth couldn’t solve.
“When Melba shoots like they did tonight and can control the ball like they did in the second half, that makes it tough,” Oliver said. “We had a stretch in the second quarter where we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, and that really hurt us, too.”
During the regular season, the District III rivals split a pair of games, but Melba cruised to a 49-33 victory in the district tournament. However, Melba’s victory left no doubt as to which of the two teams was peaking at the right time.
“I think we’re full of confidence now,” Lenz said. “When we got there two years ago and played Soda Springs that hadn’t lost a game in three years, I don’t know if we believed we could win that one. But I know we believe we can win this one. It’s going to come down to who can execute better. But I think our mindset is good right now.”
Clark, who was on the team as a sophomore when Melba lost 50-34 to Soda Springs in the 2019 finals, confirmed her coach’s sentiments.
“We’re ready to go,” Clark said. “When we made it to the finals my sophomore year, I think we were just glad to get there. But we’re ready for that blue trophy. We’re going to go out there and play our hardest.”
New Plymouth was led by Alyssa Christensen with 11 points and eight rebounds, while Eboni Shaw and Kerissa Rupp added 10 and nine points, respectively.