POCATELLO — It wasn't exactly the easiest way to get to the state tournament, but facing a win or home home situation the Shelley Russets found a way to get the job done.
With a solid defensive first half and just enough offense down the stretch the Russets defeated Bear Lake in a 3A state play-in game 48-38 Saturday at Century High School in Pocatello.
"It's nice," Shelley head coach Dave Hadley said about returning to the state tournament. "It's been a long road, we have a good conference and had a tough non conference schedule. We have been up and down a little bit, but the best part is when we absolutely had to execute today I thought we did a good job."
The Russets had not played a game since a loss to Sugar-Salem on Tuesday, while the Bears were playing their third game in a little over a week including a 20-point thumping by Snake River in the 3A District 5 title game.
So the Russets were fresh and ready to deal with the Bear's 6-foot-8 center Ryan Gundersen.
But in the games opening quarter Gundersen and the rest of Bears struggled getting anything going on offense because of the stifling Russets defense.
The problem for the Russets was that they struggled just as much offensively in the opening quarter.
After scoring the games first four points, Shelley went over five minutes without a basket, Bear Lake went the final six minutes of the quarter without a basket as Shelley led 7-2 after one.
Carter Cannon's three-pointer on the Russets first possession of the second quarter seemed to calm the team down a bit as for the first time in the game Shelley looked comfortable.
Cannon's basket kicked off a 9-2 Shelley run to build a 16-6 lead.
The Russets took a 19-9 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Whatever Bear Lake head coach Brandon Carlsen told his team in the locker room during halftime must have worked because the Bears picked up the defensive pressure and got themselves back in the game.
The Bears cut the 10-point halftime deficit down to five by the end of the third quarter and they did it with defense and some opportunistic offense.
With the increased defensive pressure the Bears got a couple of easy layups and short jump shots in a 10-4 run that cur the Russets lead to five with just eight minutes to play.
"I just thought they turned up the pressure on us in the third quarter," Hadley said. "Keifer Higham hit a three from the top of the key to give us a little breathing room, but I thought they attacked us a little better in the third quarter than they did earlier in the game. They put pressure on us and the big kid was able to make some quicker moves to the basket and the Keetch kid did a good job of getting into the paint."
But despite the increased intensity the Bears were never able to cut the Russets lead any lower than five.
Shelley closed out the game going 10-for-12 in the final 2:48 of the game to earn a hard fought win.
"That was a state tournament type of basketball game where you have to take care of the basketball," Hadley said. "We just talked about that in the post game. You can't worry about setting a good screen and you are not going to get the breaks, you have to make plays and I thought we did that especially early on."
Tyler Fredrickson led the Russets with 14 points, Blaine Rumsey added nine.
Shelley now moves on to the 3A state tournament where they will sit in the same half of the bracket as Snake River meaning that there will be no state title game rematch between the two squads.
Shelley opens the state tournament in Thursday at 8 p.m. against Homedale at Meridian High School.
Shelley 48, Bear Lake 38
Shelley 7 12 10 19 — 48
Bear Lake 2 7 15 14 — 38
Shelley — Tyler Fredrickson 4 5-7 14, Keifer Higham 2 0-0 5, Blaine Rumsey 4 0-2 9, Marcos Vega 1 1-3 3, Carter Cannon 1 4-4 7, Dalton Nelson 1 3-4 5, Bracken Nelson 1 3-4 5.
Bear Lake — Ryan Gundersen 5 3-3 13, Theron Wallentine 3 0-0 7, Tanner Ipsen 1 1-2 3, Derek Weston 2 0-0 4, Jaden Crane 1 0-0 2, Kasey Keetch 0 1-2 1, Shayden Matthews 1 4-4 6.