NAMPA, Idaho – Whitney Heleker needed all the air that she normally places under her high-arcing shots as the clock wound down.
If she didn’t put as much arc on what turned out to be the game-winning shot, it may not have made it to the backboard.
With the game tied, the Coeur d’Alene High senior banked in a 23-foot shot as the Vikings rallied to knock off Centennial 54-50 in overtime in the State 5A girls basketball championship game before an estimated crowd of 3,000 at the Idaho Center in a battle of undefeated teams.
Heleker was fouled on the shot and added an anticlimactic free throw as the No. 1-ranked Vikings defended their state title, capturing their 5A state-leading seventh championship.
Coeur d’Alene, which trailed by 11 points in the third quarter, was flat out fortunate to get the game to overtime as the Vikings trailed from the opening tip.
“It’s the best ending ever … to my career,” Heleker said. “It’s a story I’ll tell the rest of my life.”
Centennial coach Emery Roy has coached in four decades and he’s never seen an ending like what he witnessed.
“I’ve never lost one like that,” Roy said. “In fact, the two losses I’ve had in (title) games have been to Coeur d’Alene.”
The first loss occurred in the 1993-94 title game, when the Vikings finished 25-0 with a win over the Patriots at CdA.
The 2008-09 Vikings matched that perfect record.
For the longest time Saturday, though, it appeared the Viks wouldn’t have the ending they desired.
CdA struggled defending the Patriots, especially off the dribble in one-on-one situations.
After trailing 15-10 at the end of the first quarter, CdA pulled within 15-14 early in the second period. But an 8-0 spurt allowed the Patriots (25-1) to open another cushion. They took a 26-21 lead into halftime.
Centennial had its best quarter in the third. The Pats had the Viks, who hadn’t trailed an opponent by more than eight points, on their heels. Two free throws by Nicole Kissinger put the Pats ahead 34-23 with 2:35 left in the quarter.
The Pats took a 36-28 lead into the final period.
Heleker came off the bench to make a 3-pointer with 3:14 left, pulling CdA within 41-38.
All of a sudden the Viks had fought back within a basket of tying the game.
A few moments later, sophomore post Carli Rosenthal found junior wing Dayna Drager underneath the basket. Drager was fouled as she made the shot and she made the free throw to tie it at 41 with 1:30 to go.
That’s where the score would stand at the end of regulation. Both teams had opportunities in the final 90 seconds but couldn’t convert.
Centennial 6-foot-3 senior post Jade McNorton spun in the post and scored against Rosenthal, who had to play her softly with four fouls, to give the Pats a 48-47 lead with 59 seconds left in overtime.
Kama Griffitts made 1 of 2 foul shots with 36 seconds to go to tie it at 48. Nine seconds later, Griffitts hit a driving basket through the key to put CdA ahead 50-48.
McNorton again got deep position inside and Rosenthal fouled her with 10 seconds left. McNorton made both shots.
That set up the dramatic finish.
CdA coach Dale Poffenroth called for a play that had several options, including the bomb from Heleker. Griffitts passed the ball to Heleker because she knew her teammate is the best 3-point shooter on the team.
Poffenroth praised Centennial for how well it played.
“Your coach had such a great game plan,” Poffenroth told the Centennial players during the postgame ceremony.
Griffitts, who played the final 5:45 (including overtime) with four fouls, had a game-high 22 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. Rosenthal had 18 points and eight rebounds. Senior guard Sadie Simon had seven assists.
McNorton and Heather Adams led the Patriots with 17 each.