ONTARIO, ORE. — Jake O’Neil wasn’t even supposed to play this season.
But even after breaking his left leg before the season began in October, the Fruitland senior boys basketball player led his team to another district title and a spot in the state tournament Tuesday night. O’Neil posted a game-high 18 points as the No. 1 Grizzlies won back-to-back titles with a 62-50 victory over Parma in the 3A District III Championship game at Treasure Valley Community College.
“It means a lot to me,” O’Neil said. “It’s fun just to play basketball. Sitting down on the bench earlier this season, was rough. But I got back for these guys and I couldn’t feel any better.”
O'Neil, who is signed on to play golf for Boise State, was just coming down from a routine layup. But there wasn't anything ordinary about the way he landed.
He heard a snap and O'Neil said his ankle basically separated from the rest of his leg. The first surgeon O'Neil saw said he would be out for six months.
O'Neil was back in 10 weeks.
He still missed 12 games. His first game back was against Weiser on Jan. 12. O'Neil missed all five of his shots and scored zero points in his return.
But he didn't miss Tuesday night. More than five weeks later, O'Neil had arguably his best game of the season with 14 of his points coming in the second half. He had 10 points in the third quarter alone.
"It was a roller coaster," O'Neil said earlier this season. "It was really emotional for sure. I just wanted to play basketball with my guys. They are my best friends at the end of the day."
Fruitland also got big games out of Drake Stampfli and Cole Eiguren. Stampfli added another 14 points, while Eiguren chipped in with 12 for the Grizzlies (19-4), who won their 11th straight game. Ten of those 11 wins have been by double digits.
Since suffering a 75-63 loss to Baker (Ore.) on the road on Jan. 4, Fruitland has been a completely different team. The Grizzlies have an average margin of victory of 27.3 points and the closest any team has come to them is seven.
That team was No. 2 Parma (19-4) with a 54-47 loss on Feb. 8. However, the Panthers suffered the same fate as everyone else Tuesday night.
Fruitland never trailed, but did have to hold back several Parma runs. The biggest of which came with 6:27 remaining.
A pair of Jared Nielsen free throws cut the Grizzlies’ lead, which was at one point 10 points late in the first half, down to 50-48. But they once again had an answer.
It came in the form of two players who share DNA. Drake Stampfli got it going with a lay-in at the 5:08 mark. His brother, Hunter Stampfli, followed that up with a layup of his own a little more than a minute later.
It was all part of an 8-0 Fruitland run that put the lead back up to double digits at 58-48 with 2:46 to go. Four points were scored by Drake Stampfli, while the other four were by Hunter Stampfli.
Parma never got any closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“All the credit goes to the Stampfli twins dude,” Eiguren said. “They were owning the boards, man. On Parma’s offensive end, they got one shot and they were done. But on our end, if we missed, they were getting the rebound and putting it back up. They were dominating the paint and doing whatever it took at the end.”
Nielsen tallied a team-high 16 points for the Panthers, who suffered their sixth straight loss to the Grizzlies. Three of their four losses this season have come at the hands of Fruitland.
Blaine Rohrbacher and Braydon Jensen each finished with 11 points apiece for Parma, that will now play Weiser in the second-place, winner-to-state game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Panthers will try to qualify for their sixth straight state tournament.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are at state for the third time in four years. They will play Snake River at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Meridian High in the opening round.
Fruitland is the reigning state champion and has the same 11-game winning streak it had going in last year.
But the Grizzlies know better than to get ahead of themselves.
“We have to keep our heads level,” Hunter Stampfli said. “We have to keep our heads level and we can't get too cocky with it. We have to be prepared for the teams ahead because all of them will be gunning for us. We’re the team to beat in everyone’s minds.”