By JOSH McDONALD
MERIDIAN — Well IdahoSports.com … you picked wrong!
The Kellogg Wildcats picked up a huge win in the opening round of the 3A state tournament on Thursday night when they knocked off the Shelley Russets 54-53 at Meridian High School.
The popular state sports website picked against Kellogg in every pre-tournament prediction, which only added fuel to the Wildcats in their opening contest.
Kellogg came out firing, jumping out to 13-5 lead, but Shelley tightened their defense up and quickly closed the gap, before going on a run of their own that resulted in the game being a 25-25 stalemate at halftime.
The second half was played at the same frenetic pace as the first half ended with, but the WIldcats made sure to answer every Shelley run with a basket of their own to keep a manageable lead.
In the fourth quarter the game slowed down to a more methodical pace as both teams were looking for any opening that would give them the win. The Russets went inside where their big post players kept the game close and even got Shelley a lead with less than a minute remaining.
But then Tyler Gibbons informed the packed Meridian High School gym that he has nothing but ice in his veins as he nailed two huge free throws with 27 seconds left to give the Wildcats their final lead.
Shelley would have one final possession, but a missed 3-pointer and putback securted the Wildcats their win and set off a joyous center court celebration.
“That was a great team effort tonight,” Wildcat coach Jeff Nearing said following the win. “We needed every ounce of effort tonight. They (Shelley) are a great team and they played very well, this is a great win for our team.”
Gibbons was grinning ear to ear following the game, but wasn’t shy on how he felt during those free throws.
“I wasn’t nervous, but the ball felt weird in my hands,” Gibbons said. “When the first one rolled around I got a little nervous, but the second one felt good.”
Chase Jerome led all scores with 23 points, while Toby Colburn finished with 13 and Gibbons with 12.
The Wildcats will play at 8 p.m. MST against Snake RIver (20-3) at Meridian High School in the second of the 3A semifinal contests.