(Editor’s note: The last time Wood River High School sent a boys’ basketball team to the state tournament was in 2004, which was coach Fred Trenkle’s first season in his second stint at the Wolverine helm. To make state, Wood River defeated Kimberly on Feb. 25, 2004 at the College of Southern Idaho gym in Twin Falls. Here’s an account of that game):
Riley Neff, a blue-collar hero in the trenches for Wood River High School, came out of the locker room Wednesday night at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls feeling about as good as he’s ever felt in his entire life.
Neff had just played “Mr. Inside,” for Wood River, pulling down six rebounds and scoring 11 points in the second half against the Kimberly Bulldogs.
Assistant coaches Jim Boatwright and John Radford had just assured Riley’s proud grandparents that he was the Most Valuable Player of the game.
One of many, indeed.
Wood River’s other MVP was its “Mr. Outside,” junior point guard Brady Femling, who burned the ‘Dogs for a season-high 20 points including five 3-pointers.
In fact, the Wolverines had another MVP, senior Matt Pruett, whose intense defensive play and season-high 13 points sparked the Hailey squad to another improbable victory.
So, this was the question posed to Riley Neff, who it seemed like any second would break into a broad grin: How was it that Wood River was able to erase an 11-point second-half deficit and outscore Kimberly by an incredible 24-7 score in the fourth quarter?
“We just needed to get tough,” said Neff, a 6-3 senior forward who is usually the second or third player off coach Fred Trenkle’s deep bench.
Then Neff discarded any notions of political correctness and found himself saying the one thing all the Wood River players were saying to themselves after Wednesday’s truly amazing come-from-behind 64-50 win over Kimberly on the CSI hardwoods.
“I’m an All-Star,” he said, reflecting the belief and confidence that first-year coach Trenkle and his staff have instilled in all 12 Wolverines over three months and 23 tough games.
One Wood River parent likened Wednesday’s victory to a miracle—not only because it gave the Hailey school its first State 3A tournament berth in 13 years, but also because it came on the heels of three near-disastrous seasons.
Wood River won only seven of 66 games from 2001-03. They lost 16 of their final 17 games just a year ago. They had lost their Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference 3A tournament games by 26 and 19 points last year, and by 26 and 15 points the year before.
This year, with Trenkle promising to restore Wood River’s respect, the streaking Wolverines (11-12) went on a late-season run. They won eight of their last 10 and captured three of their four SCIC tourney games to earn second place in the six-school meet.
And now the blue-collar Wolverines, molded in the image of their scrappy blue-collar coach from Shoshone, are headed to Meridian High School for the eight-team State 3A tournament beginning Thursday, March 4 at Meridian High School.
Wednesday’s 14-point triumph over #2-seeded Kimberly (13-9), combined with Tuesday night’s loser-out 58-55 triumph over #4-seeded Filer (7-14) on the same CSI floor, gave #3-seeded Wood River an automatic berth in the state tournament as the second-place team out of the SCIC.
It’s only the eighth time Wood River has qualified for state. The last time was 1991 under coach Norm Cook.
Two other times, in 1974 and 1975, Trenkle coached Wood River teams to state. In fact, the only other time Wood River went to state in the Boise Valley was 1974, when the Wolverines scored their highest-ever state finish, second behind Grangeville.
After Wednesday’s state-qualifying game, Trenkle said, “We overcame a lot of things. Different people sparked us. The kids who came off the bench gave us a lift, then the starters got back in and caught fire. We played a tough 4A schedule this year—maybe it gave us a lift here at the tournament.”
Senior Joe Paisley, the tough little guard and frequent Trenkle whipping post, put his finger on the reason for Wood River’s success this year.
Paisley said, “The reason we did what we did is because of the practices coach Trenkle put us through. We knew exactly what it was going to take to win the games. We had to stay with other teams, and get them at the end.”
Defense is the cornerstone of every Trenkle team.
Wednesday, in the most critical stretch of the most important game of the season, Wood River’s zone defense held Kimberly to just one field goal, a Jace Dille 3-pointer, in the entire fourth quarter. The ‘Dogs didn’t score a field goal in the final six minutes.
“Defense did it,” said Pruett, who succeeded in the tough assignment of guarding 6-2 junior Darin Musser (17 points, 2 in the second half). “Then we’d just push it up the court on the fast break. We got Kimberly into foul trouble. Starting at the end of the third quarter, they tired a little.”
Playing all four quarters
Wood River’s SCIC tournament obstacles were Filer and Kimberly.
The Wolverines took care of Filer 52-38 in the opener Feb. 17. After losing down the homestretch to Kimberly 52-45 Monday, they needed to eliminate the Wildcats 58-55 Tuesday to earn another shot at Kimberly.
Wood River built a 36-23 half-time lead over Filer, went to sleep in the third quarter then held on for the three-point victory. Jeremy Selcho scored 12 points, Femling 11 and leading scorer Jason Hofman 10.
Meanwhile, top-seeded Declo (17-3) throttled Kimberly 77-51 Tuesday night, meaning the Bulldogs went into Wednesday’s do-or-die game after a loss. “The hardest games to win are those after you lose,” Trenkle said.
The first half was a fierce battle, with 11 lead changes and two ties.
Kimberly’s defense led by 6-4 senior Ricky Zodrow down low and long-armed Musser out on the perimeter literally took the entry pass away from Wood River’s attack. That wasn’t a good sign for Trenkle’s offense that has relied on the scoring of big men.
Musser, a thorn in Wood River’s side each time the teams played, was immense in the first half, with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Hailey didn’t have any big scorers but there was a good first-half omen—the Wolverines getting scoring from six players.
Another good omen was the fact that Trenkle, from the opening bell Wednesday, was on his feet and yelling and exhorting and reminding the referees about their questionable vision and misdeeds.
Things deteriorated in the first four minutes of the third quarter as Kimberly went on an 11-4 run propelled by the outside shooting of Jace Dille (13 points) and the inside strength of J.J. Shawver (12 points, 5 boards).
When Trenkle called time out, Kimberly’s lead was 37-26.
Trenkle, the Sage of Shoshone, pulled Plan B out of his pocket. He yanked his starters out of the game, leaving only Femling to direct traffic and withstand Kimberly’s press.
And that’s when Neff and Femling started getting Wood River back into it.
“I told them we had to push through it and score,” Trenkle said.
Dylan Fullmer pushed the ball up the court and Neff buried a 16-footer. Femling’s 3-point attempt bounced off the iron, but Neff grabbed it and put it home and converted the old-fashioned blue-collar 3-point play. Femling fed Pruett for a fast break basket. Selcho popped from 12 feet.
With 12 seconds left in the third, Pruett ripped the ball away from Kimberly on a trap and gave Wood River one final possession, down 43-37. And Femling made no mistake, firing a 3-pointer into the net like a slingshot at the buzzer to bring fans to their feet.
Femling, who drilled a season-high five 3-pointers, was a picture of confidence when he slipped into the paint and lifted a looping runner guaranteed to rise over the Kimberly shot-blockers (10 blocked shots in the last two meetings of teams).
It stayed in the air forever but came down in the right place. Kimberly’s lead shriveled to 43-42.
After a Bulldog turnover, Femling nailed his fourth 3-pointer for a 45-43 Hailey lead.
That’s when the Bulldogs made their last stand against the withering Wolverine rally. With Zodrow and Shawver battling down low, they went on a 5-0 run for a 48-45 lead.
And that’s when Neff stepped up.
Scott Bohrer missed two free throws, but Neff rebounded the second miss and banked it home. Then Neff collected a short Pruett shot and made the putback for a 49-48 Wolverine lead. He was fouled, and missed, but Pruett grabbed the board and lured Shawver into his fourth foul. Pruett made the first, 50-48.
At the other end, Musser, with Pruett in his face, was way off on a 3-pointer. Kimberly was dragging, while Wood River was picking up the pace.
Neff said, “It got to the point where Kimberly was just putting it up.”
Femling came back, took a pass on the baseline from Pruett and lined a 3-pointer that hit the rim and popped up in the air and somehow fell in. It was up in the air long enough for Shawver to foul Neff in all the jostling underneath. Shawver was gone. 53-48.
What did it mean to get Shawver out of the game? Neff said with a sly grin, “It meant I got two free throws.”
And he made both rainbows from the charity stripe.
With Wood River’s lead grown to 55-48 and two minutes left, it also meant that brave Kimberly was nearly a goner as well.
For the first time, Trenkle even relaxed a little, looking up at his wife Juanita in the stands as if to say, we’re there. Juanita put up the caution flag and Trenkle got back to work.
Pruett and Paisley, sensing the inevitable, picked the Bulldogs apart for a couple of transition hoops that kept the Wolverine fans on their feet.
By the end, the Hailey crowd was shouting “Trenkle! Trenkle!” The green-shirted victors rushed onto the floor, hugging each other.
“The locker room felt pretty good,” said Neff.
Trenkle never really made it to the locker room.
For 15 minutes, he greeted every well-wisher who wanted a hug, or a quick conversation, or to give him a thank you for a job well done or any kind of acknowledgement from the master coach.
He waded triumphantly through his people, like so many other nights before when he was CSI coach.
Trenkle, who coached 10 CSI teams to a 329-36 record and had a 137-game home winning streak back when Femling was in kindergarten, consoled Kimberly coach Roger Keller (“Roger, you have a bunch of warriors—we just had a couple more people than you.”)
And, of course, he summoned the age-old story of the moths in his post-game comments through a microphone, in front of the adoring crowd.
His voice hoarse from yelling and cracking from emotion, Trenkle recounted the story of his first trip to state with Wood River 30 years ago.
He told the crowd about how the Twin Falls newspaper came up with a phrase that described Wood River’s bombs-eye defense.
“They said it’s like being devoured by a moth,” Trenkle said.
“We are the moths.”
And the Wood River moths even got an apparent break with the state tournament schedule. While reigning state champion Declo has to open up against last year’s state runner-up Preston at 1:15 p.m. next Thursday, Wood River will meet Fruitland at 8 p.m. at Meridian High School.
Fruitland upset coach Dale Karst’s once-beaten Middleton Vikings 36-34 Tuesday night, in the Third District championship game at Middleton.
Karst scored 872 points for Wood River from 1983-85 and played for Trenkle on CSI’s 1987 national title team, so it’s now less likely that Middleton and Wood River will meet.
Results from the final two SCIC games for Wood River:
WR 64-50 over Kimberly: Brady Femling 20 points, Matt Pruett 13, Riley Neff 11, Jason Hofman 6, Jeremy Selcho 6, Joe Paisley 4, Kory Ott 2, Scott Bohrer 2. Rebounds (32)—Selcho 7, Neff 6, Hofman 6, Femling 5. Steals—Femling 2, Bohrer 2. Assists—Paisley 6, Femling 5. 3-pointers—Femling 5. FT—9-16. Opp FT—6-9.
WR 58-55 over Filer: Femling 12 points, Selcho 12, Hofman 10, Paisley 6, Bohrer 6, Brian Ward 5, Neff 3, Ott 2, Pruett 2. 3-pointers—Femling 2, Bohrer 2, Ward 1. FT—13-17. Opp FT—13-18.
WR season statistics (23 games): Offense—49.2 ppg (54.8 tourney). Defense—51.8 ppg (48.8 tourney). Free throws—WR 244-438 (56%) including 46-66 (70%) tourney. Opposition—196-322 (61%) including 32-52 (62%) tourney. Top season individual scorers—Jason Hofman 11.1 ppg, Jeremy Selcho 7.8 (10.0 tourney), Brady Femling 7.0 (12.5 tourney), Kory Ott 6.4, Scott Bohrer 5.2. 3-pointers (53)—Femling 22 (18 in last 10 games), Bohrer 13, Ward 12.