NAMPA â€” Take away Firth's 25 free throws, and Ririe would have walked away victorious. Shooting from the stripe was the difference between leaving state champion or settling for runner-up, and Firth delivered when it mattered.
The Cougars hit 64 percent of their attempts to secure their Class 2A state championship in Saturday's 45-36 victory over the Bulldogs at the Idaho Center. Firth recognized the importance of free throw shooting after narrowly escaping the opening round of tournament play with a victory.
"We practiced free throws a lot," said junior Bailey Nelson. "Our first (state) game, we were 7 for 24, so the next day we just kept practicing and practicing. Each of us had a personal goal to not miss free throws. Even though we didn't hit every one, we hit enough to keep us in the game."
In fourth quarter, 9 of the final 11 Firth points were made from the free-throw stripe. During this run, Kayla Jensen hit four, Brittana Spencer sunk three, and Rachel Schiess hit a pair. Ririe, a district rival Firth had only beaten twice in four contests this season, was unable to catch up.
"It's hard to beat a team three times in a row," senior Brittana Spencer (10 points, 6 of 9 free throws) said. "They didn't beat us three times in a row. They beat us twice in the regular season, and we went to districts and beat them two times. We knew we'd have to beat them a third time to become state champions, and we did."
Firth trailed only once, falling behind Ririe 22-21. But a 13-2 run that began in the third quarter and carried over into the fourth put the Cougars up for good. High-pressure defense again prevailed for the Cougars, who found success in both man and zone defenses.
"We changed it up halfway through," Firth head coach Sharla Cook said. "The kids executed well in the zone and the man (defense) and were able to get some stops both ways."
Ririe turned the ball over a devastating 23 times, with Firth notching 10 steals. Kayla Jensen led with three steals, and Firth scored 18 points off turnovers.
Firth's state championship victory was the program's first tournament appearance since 2010 and first trophy since 2008, when the Cougars finished third. The 2007 team was runner up to Butte County, while the 2005 and 2006 squads won the consolation trophy.
This title run also holds special significance for Nelson and her mother, Monica Backlund Nelson, who was part of Firth's last state championship team in 1987.
"We talked about this a lot," Bailey (14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals) said. "She was a senior, and here I am as a junior, taking it again. It's really important to me. We talked about it and how cool it would be."
Firth finished the season 20-4.
Class 2A Girls State Championship
Firth 45, Ririe 36
Firth 12 9 7 17 â€” 45
Ririe 11 7 6 12 â€” 36
FIRTH: Brittana Spencer 2-7 6-9 10, Kayla Jensen 0-7 7-8 7, Bailey Nelson 5-16 4-6 14, Ashley Carpenter 0-1 0-0 0, Jacee Jensen 1-6 3-8 5, Natalie Jolley 0-2 1-2 1, Rachel Schiess 2-4 4-6 8. Totals 10-43 25-39 45.
RIRIE: Haddi Williams 0-5 0-0 0, Brooke Griffith 4-10 2-2 10, Shaylee Sherrard 1-2 0-0 3, Sicilee Williams 2-11 0-0 4, Emily Burden 0-2 0-0 0, Amy Johnson 2-8 5-6 9, Madeline Connaughton 1-7 0-0 2, Savanna Gamett 3-9 0-0 8. Totals 13-54 7-8 36.
3-point goals: Firth 0-5 (J. Jensen 0-4, Carpenter 0-1), Ririe 3-19 (Gamett 2-6, Sherrard 1-1, H. Williams 0-3, Griffith 0-2, S. Williams 0-5, Johnson 0-2). Rebounds: Firth 33 (Nelson 7, Schiess 7), Ririe 43 (Gamett 7, H. Williams 6). Fouls: Firth 14, Ririe 27. Fouled out: Firth, K. Jensen; Ririe, Griffith. Assists: Firth 3 (Schiess 2), Ririe 6 (S. Williams 2, Gamett 2). Turnovers: Firth 12, Ririe 23. Blocks: Firth 1, Ririe 1. Steals: Firth 10, (K. Jensen 3), Ririe 4 (Gamett 2).