BY RACHEL ROBERTS
MERIDIAN – Eagle High coach Cody Pickett was a junior in high school the last time the Mustangs won a district championship in girls basketball.
On Friday, Pickett and the Mustangs put an end to the 19-year drought.
Eagle toppled Centennial 65-52 in the 5A District Three Tournament championship game at Mountain View, marking its 15th consecutive win and 20th of the season by double digits.
It is the program’s first district title since 1998.
“For me personally, I’ve played in a lot of big-time atmospheres, but the high school experience is awesome,” said Pickett, a former Washington Huskies and San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
“I just wanted them to enjoy tonight. I told them, ‘No pressure. The pressure’s trying to get here, and now that we’re here, let’s just play and have fun.’ They did that.”
The Mustangs pushed the pace early, taking advantage of a deep bench that allows them to keep fresh legs on the court at all times. The result was a 7-0 lead two minutes into the first quarter.
“We definitely have more stamina than the other teams we play,” junior post/forward Katelyn Murray said. “We can always just push the pace all the time and never have to worry about fatigue.”
Reserves McKenna Emerson and Jaimee McKinnie each had moments in the second quarter that contributed to Eagle’s double-digit lead at the half.
Emerson scored five points in a one-minute span, and McKinnie beat the halftime buzzer with a running 3-pointer. McKinnie was fouled on the shot and made the ensuing free throw to complete the four-point play.
“Jaimee and McKenna, those girls are really, truly starters, but we have the benefit of having them come off our bench,” Pickett said. “It’s just a blessing, and I am glad they’ve bought into that role.”
Junior guard/forward Janie King led the Mustangs with 20 points, including a 4-for-6 performance from 3-point range. Senior guard Cassidy Tiegs, Eagle’s career scoring leader, added 14 points.
Eagle improved to 23-1 — one victory shy of tying the program’s single-season wins record — and earns the league’s No. 1 seed at the state tournament Feb. 16-18 at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. The Mustangs open the tournament against Highland (13-9) at 3 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re not satisfied with this win. It is awesome we’re district champs, but obviously our main goal is to win state,” senior Abby Mangum said. “… In the locker room, we were like, ‘This is just the appetizer.’ We’re ready to go to state and win it all.”
Eagle’s best finish at state was a second-place trophy in 1998.
Despite losing to the Mustangs for the third time this season, the Patriots (20-4) enter state with their eye on revenge. They end up on the opposite side of the bracket from Eagle and draw the winner of Saturday’s play-in game between Lake City (18-5) and Borah (18-6).
“In the locker room, we said we’ve got a lot of stuff to fix, and we’ve got about a week to do it,” Centennial coach Candace Thornton said. “They outrebounded us. We had too many turnovers, so there’s a lot of stuff in our control that we can fix.”