NAMPA — All season, the Melba girls basketball team has tried to shy away from the word.
Now that the job is done, the Mustangs can openly call themselves undefeated champions.
Melba capped off an undefeated 26-0 season and, more important, its second 2A state championship in three seasons on Saturday with a 55-46 win against Soda Springs in the state championship game.
“I’ll absolutely talk about it now,” senior Kendall Clark, who posted a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “Our volleyball team was state champs, too, now this team is undefeated state champs and it’s basically the exact same team. All the seniors have played together forever, so it’s rewarding to see all of our hard work pay off.”
Despite putting together a tough non-conference schedule, Melba passed all its tests this year with flying colors. It defeated a trio of 5A schools in Middleton, Kuna and Mountain View. It beat a 4A state semifinal team in Columbia — twice. It beat traditional 1A power Lapwai. Even in 2A Western Idaho Conference play, the Mustangs swept defending state champion Cole Valley Christian, then beat the Chargers again for the 2A District III title.
And on Saturday, Melba beat Soda Springs, the team that had won three straight state titles prior to Melba winning its first in 2021.
“We knew what we had coming back and we wanted challenge ourselves,” said Melba coach Dave Lenz. “The goal is never to win them all, it’s to win the last one. We just happened to win them all.”
Which begs the question, is this the greatest Melba team of all time?
Clark, who had two older sisters play for the Mustangs, both of whom she will join next season at Northwest Nazarene, joked she couldn’t answer that question without getting in trouble with her family. Senior Hallie Arnold, in no such predicament, responded emphatically.
“I would say yes,” said Arnold, who finished with 11 points.
Lenz was a little more diplomatic after pointing out that this team had more depth than the team that won the program’s first state title two years ago.
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“I’ve been in Melba for 20 years now,” said Lenz. “It’s the best one since I’ve been here, how about that?”
Lenz did credit the Mustangs tough schedule with helping them to overcome some adversity they faced in the third quarter, perhaps the biggest adversity the Mustangs had faced all season.
Melba led 27-16 early in the third before Soda Springs (22-5) took over momentum with a 17-1 run in the middle of the frame.
A basket by Soda Springs’ Abby Goodin made it 33-28 Cardinals, which just may have been the Mustangs’ largest deficit of the season.
“We really had to keep our heads and stay under control,” said Arnold. “In the third quarter things got really crazy and the momentum really swung. But I think we did a good job of bringing it back in in the fourth quarter and resetting.”
A free throw by Clark, a basket by Tariah Carter and two more free throws by Keylee Wilson tied the game at 33 going into the fourth quarter, giving the Mustangs a bit of a boost going into the final frame.
“I told them at the end of the quarter we basically had won two and a half quarters up to that point,” said Lenz. “We were the better team, we just had a lull there where we didn’t play basketball very well.”
In the fourth quarter, it was Clark who took over. After struggling to shoot the ball, particularly from the free throw line earlier in the game, she had 10 of her 18 points in the final frame. Clark was 8 for 9 from the free throw line in the final quarter.
“I’m always with her shooting in practice, and all she’s been doing for the past week was free throws, free throws, free throws,” Arnold said about Clark. “It was so nice to see her knock those down in a big moment. Free throws win championships.”
Melba went up 51-41 on a basket by Darby Lowber, but the Cardinals had one last run in them. Taylor Billman sank a basket, then hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit down to five, but Wilson, Clark and Brooklyn Dayley all hit free throws in the final minute of the game to help Melba secure the state title.
“I’m just really happy for the kids,” Lenz said. “We didn’t talk about being undefeated, but everyone else did. Probably a little, but I thought they did a great job handling it, outside that one stretch in the third quarter.”