By George Ferguson
No coach in the District 9C conference was looking forward to playing the Rocky Boy Morning Stars in this tournament. The Stars were a team with nothing to lose and looking to play spoiler for someone.
On Wednesday night, it was the Turner Tornadoes whose season was spoiled as they were shocked by the Morning Stars, 54-53, in loser-out play at the Havre High Gymnasium.
After the win Rocky Boy head coach Martin Parker was feeling very good about what had just occurred, while Turner head coach Joyce Van Voast was left thinking about next season.
"We knew we could beat Turner if we played well," Parker said. "We had played them to three points a couple of weeks ago. Tonight, we finished it off. It is a very good feeling to come in here and get a win in this tournament."
Said VanVoast: "This was a very tough game for us. Rocky Boy made big shots and we didn't. We also have a very young team and they made some freshman mistakes which hurt us at the end of the game."
The Stars came into the contest with just one victory, but they started the game as if they had 20, grabbing an 11-7 lead after one quarter. Turner struggled against Rocky Boy's full-court press, turning the ball over on numerous occasions and missing the shots it did get.
The Stars led by as many as nine points in the second quarter, but the Tornadoes were able to scratch their way back into the half by way of the free-throw line thanks to a barrage of Rocky Boy fouls. By the end of the quarter, Turner had gone on a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 22-17.
Both Van Voast and Parker agree that Rocky Boy's press was a difference-maker in disrupting Turner's offense.
"They forced us into some shots we didn't want to take and we could never get the ball inside," VanVoast said. "And all the fouls really took us out of any rhythm."
Said Parker: "We did not press them the other times we played them. Throwing that in there tonight really made a difference, because we made it hard on them to bring the ball up and get good shots."
Despite Turner's shooting troubles, it managed to string together a run of 13-4 in the early stages of the third period to take its first lead of the game. Melissa Grabofsky punctuated the run with a three-pointer.
However, Turner was called for a foul as time expired in the period and the Tornado bench was slapped with a technical foul shortly thereafter. The Morning Stars capitalized, making four consecutive free-throws with no time on the clock to take a 37-34 lead.
The Stars used a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter to pull ahead by as many as seven points, as Turner went on a five minute scoring drought that seemed to seal its fate.
However, with just 25 seconds left, Grabofsky picked-off an errant Shana St. Pierre pass and went coast-to-coast for a layup and was also fouled on the play. She made the ensuing free-throw to pull her team within one at 54-53 in the waning seconds. The Stars then turned the ball over with three seconds remaining giving Turner one final shot. But the Tornadoes were called for traveling as time expired, allowing the Stars to gain their second win of the season.
"Turning the ball over and not scoring enough in the fourth quarter really hurt us," Van Voast said. "But you have to give Rocky Boy credit because they made some big shots and we didn't."
Rocky Boy was led to victory by Deidra Sunchild and Marty Rae Stiffarm as they poured in 14 points apiece. Sunchild's night included a 3-5 performance from three-point range. The Tornadoes got game-high 15 points from Grabofsky and Britney Jones. Cheryl Cowan chipped in with 11 points in the losing effort.
Turner's season comes to an end with a 6-14 record, but Van Voast remained positive about the future.
"The good thing is that we are so young and we are going to get better," Van Voast said. "We will miss our one senior in Melissa Grabofsky, but there is a bright future for these girls."
Rocky Boy will move on to face the loser of tonight's Big Sandy-KG semifinal on Friday at 1 p.m.