It was all-too familiar.
Another good run for the Lumberjacks that would peter out in the semifinals.
We’ve grown so used to the third-place games over the years.
It was almost as if the last minute with North Fremont, watching the Huskies dribble away the time like it was a countdown on St. Maries’ title hopes, we all prepared ourselves to rise early the next day and once again root for the “next best” trophy.
• • •
But at the same time, it was difficult to imagine that Lumberjack team losing. It was hard to think up a scenario where St. Maries’ weathered, matured group came out on the wrong side of another game.
It felt like watching the 2016 state-championship football team, when after allowing a touchdown on the third play of the state title game there was that collective feeling of “wait, this isn’t how things were supposed to go.”
Of course, injuries, grades and other unforeseen things (COVID) can happen in a heartbeat, which is why they don’t award the trophy until after the last game and not after week one.
Fortunate for Coach Craig Tefft and the 2016 Lumberjack football team, and as was also the case with Coach Bryan Chase’s basketball team this season, attrition and durability were no issue.
• • •
But if you watched either of the two frighteningly-close basketball games St. Maries played in last weekend in Nampa, you might have hoped your buddies wouldn’t remember how you’d predicted a title.
You would have had good reason to think about taking that bet back, too.
Because if you're not drag racing, half a second won’t do you much good.
Unless you’re Colby Renner, of course. In that case, you can do a whole heck of a lot in half a second.
Like send your team to the state championship game.
Coach Chase said it was one of those games that comes around once in a very – very – great while.
But as unlikely as it was, St. Maries played in a game perhaps even more dire the very next day.
• • •
This time the Lumberjacks weren’t down one point in the final minutes, but five.
And with the way last Saturday’s game with Ambrose was going, five points were not easy to come by.
But they did it again.
They proved all of us who were bold enough to say, out-loud, how far we thought this team would go right. Again.
But it’s like we said earlier – this team was just different.
And it’s not something that’s easy to put a finger on, either.
When you compare one team to another, on paper they don’t look all that different, typically. Especially when they’re both in a championship game.
But sometimes you just need a little something intangible, as buzzword users would say.
• • •
To be fair, at this point, explanations aren’t needed. The Lumberjacks have the trophy. That’s more than enough.
Our confidence wasn’t misplaced, either. Only tested.
Included in its run of 23 wins and one loss over the course of three months, St. Maries beat not three, but four state champions.
That’s right, four state champions.
It started with the defending 1AD2 title-winning team from Plummer, which the Jacks got past twice.
Then it was one division up as St. Maries beat out the state champions from Lapwai. The Wildcats won this year’s 1AD1 title.
Last year’s 1AD1 winner, Ambrose, was dispatched by the Lumberjacks in the 2A state championship last week.
• • •
And finally there was North Fremont.
The Huskies won last year’s 2A crown, and also won the year before, defeating a team wearing green and gold in overtime to claim the first of its back-to-back state titles.
St. Maries got its revenge last week thanks to Mr. Renner.
• • •
After all of it was over with, we got to look back at what may be the most impressive resumé a Lumberjack basketball team has put together in a long – long – time.
They were one lay-up away in 2019, but this year’s championship was the first for St. Maries since a loaf of bread was 20 cents.
Of course, a lot of things were cheaper in 1960.
St. Maries resident, Ed Haskins, was a player on that team and scored 65 points in two state tournament wins for the Lumberjacks, who defeated West Side in overtime and then Homedale in the title game.
The year was a good one for North Idaho teams, as Kootenai and St. Maries were district champions, and Plummer defeated Spirit Lake in its district consolation game. A week later the Lumberjacks were the highest-placing northern team at the state tournament in Coeur d’Alene.
The front page of the Gazette Record predicted “For years to come in the St. Maries area, the year 1960 will be remembered as the year we won the state basketball championship.”
That writer would probably not have guessed we would have to wait so long for another one.
But it is nice we don’t have to look so far back to find a title anymore.
Collin Scheel is the sports reporter at the Gazette Record.