By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
To put it simply, the Blue Sky girls basketball team took care of business Saturday night.
The Eagles entered the 2004 District 9C girls basketball tournament as heavy favorites and emerged as District 9C champions with a 47-36 win over archrival KG in the championship game.
"This tournament was a big challenge for these girls," said Blue Sky head coach Elizabeth Campbell. "They had never really been in the position of favorites before and they responded really well to it."
"I am very proud of the way they played tonight and the way they handled all the pressure of this tournament," Olsen added.
At the beginning of the championship tilt, it appeared that both teams were dealing with a serious case of nerves. The KouGars staked an early 6-2 lead, but both squads had trouble finding a consistent offense. Stuck on two points, Robyn Schnitzmeier hit a jumper in the lane that sent the Eagles on a quick six-point run that gave them an 8-6 lead after the first quarter.
In the second period, the Eagles turned up the defensive pressure in hopes of jump starting their offense and it worked with precision. With KG in the midst of a scoring drought that would last for more than seven minutes between the first and second quarters, the Eagles were able to run off 15 unanswered points, taking a 17-6 lead with four minutes left in the half.
Mandy Rambo and Casie Toner ended the drought with back-to-back baskets for the KouGars, but the Eagles ended the quarter with another 10 unanswered points, capped off by a running Holly Haas jumper at the buzzer. Haas' exclamation point on the first half gave the Eagles a commanding 27-12 lead at intermission.
"We re-emphasized our man-to-man defense this week," Campbell said. "And I thought the girls did a great job defending KG. Our help on defense was especially good and that was the big key in this game tonight."
Haas was also complimentary of her team's defensive efforts after the contest.
"Defense is always the best cure for offense," Haas said. "We knew that if we played good tough defense against KG, our offense would eventually get going. The whole team just stepped up and played big tonight."
In the third quarter, the KouGars' offense continued to struggle as Blue Sky increased its lead to 20 points at 36-16.
The KouGars finally got going in the fourth quarter behind Cady Arifin, but it was a case of too little too late. Arifin scored 13 points in the period, including a three-pointer at the buzzer to make the final margin of 11 points.
After the game KG head coach Jennifer Wendland summed up her team's loss very simply.
"We just couldn't hit anything tonight," Wendland said. "We were really bad offensively and we turned the ball over too much.
"There isn't a single player on this team that has been in this position before," Wendland added. "And it seemed like we played very tentative and that hurt us, especially at the beginning of the game."
Meanwhile, the Eagles were very balanced offensively. Kaila Warren, Lindsay Anderson and Maia Aageson led the way with 10 points each. Schnitzmeier chipped in with eight points and Haas added 7.
The KouGars were led in the scoring column by Arifin with a game-high 19 points. Mandy Rambo added seven points in the losing effort.
"This is really huge for our school and our community," Haas said of the district championship. "I was in eighth grade the last time we went to a divisional tournament and it has been a really long time since we won the district tournament. It is really exciting."
Said Campbell: "I am just really happy for this group of girls. They have worked hard all season and they accomplished a very big goal. We are really looking forward to going to the divisional tournament because if we play well, I think we will have a chance there."
Meanwhile, the KouGars divisional future is yet to be determined. That is because on Saturday afternoon the Rocky Boy Morning Stars capped off a tremendous run this week with a 53-37 win over Big Sandy in the girls consolation game.
As a result, the Morning Stars will play the KouGars in a challenge game tonight to determine second place.
On Saturday afternoon, the Stars used a 9-0 run by Marty Rae Stiffarm at the end of the second quarter to gain a comfortable edge on the Pioneers. Trailing 13-12, Stiffarm drilled three-straight three-pointers that helped the Morning Stars stake a 23-16 lead at halftime. It was a lead they would never relinquish.
In the third quarter, Rocky Boy put the contest out of reach thanks in large part to the play of twins Tori and Loni Belcourt. The two combined for 16 points in the period, part of an 18-4 run that all but ended any chance of a Pioneer comeback.
After the game, Rocky Boy head coach Derek Small was elated with the play of his team against a perennial 9C power like Big Sandy.
"We wanted to slow the game down against Big Sandy and I thought we did that really well," Small said. "The girls were really patient on offense and they played really good defense. We just played our game and it worked out."
Stiffarm led the way for the Morning Stars with a game-high 23 points. Also, Tori Belcourt scored 19 points. The Pioneers were paced by Ashley Goodian's team-high 16 points.
"Our goal all year was to come here and get a trophy," Small said. "It took a while to get the girls to believe that they could. But they stuck together and they worked hard and they accomplished that goal."
Meanwhile, Wendland knows that her team is now in a dogfight against the upstart Morning Stars for a trip to the divisional tournament.
"This is a pretty tough situation to be in," Wendland said. "Rocky Boy played really well this weekend and we are going to have to play a lot better if we are going to have a chance on Monday night."
The District 9C challenge game between KG and Rocky Boy will tip off at 7 tonight at the HHS gymnasium. The winner of that game will join Blue Sky at the Northern C divisional tournament in Great Falls in two weeks.
Blue Sky 47, KG 36 (1st)
KG 6 6 4 20 - 36
Blue Sky 8 19 9 11 - 47
KG - Cady Arifin 19, Mandy Rambo 7, Casie Toner 6, Whitney Hanson 2, Britta Umbach 2. Totals: 13 8-15.
Blue Sky - Holly Haas 7, Kaila Warren 10, Lindsay Anderson 10, Robyn Schnitzmeier 8, Maia Aageson 10, Megan Warren 2. Totals: 19 7-9.
Three-point goals: Arifin 2, Aageson 2. Total fouls: KG 12, Blue Sky 18. Fouled out: none.
Rocky Boy 53, Big Sandy 37 (3rd)
Rocky Boy 8 15 21 9 - 53
Big Sandy 6 10 10 11 - 37
Rocky Boy - Allie Sunchild 2, LeiLoni Belcourt 6, Tori Belcourt 18, Marty Rae Stiffarm 23, Chelsey St. Pierre 4. Totals: 21 6-11.
Big Sandy - Ashley Goodian 16, Naomi Williams 7, Sarah Yirsa 2, Sandy Zeiger 8, Jessica Amsbaugh 2, Shaila Cline 2. Totals: 14 6-12.
Three-point goals Stiffarm 4, T. Belcourt 1, Goodian 3. Total fouls: Rocky Boy 11, Big Sandy 13. Fouled out: none.
Rocky Boy 45, Hays-Lodge Pole 36 (lo)
Rocky Boy 15 11 13 6 - 45
Hays-Lodge Pole 10 11 6 9 - 36
Rocky Boy - LeiLoni Belcourt 14, Ronnie Jo LaMere 3, Tori Belcourt 7, Deidra Sunchild 6, Marty Rae Stiffarm 15. Totals: 19 4-9.
Hays-Lodge Pole - Clarissa Cochran 4, K.K. Kirkaldie 8, Jennifer Messerly 2, Vanessa Webb 4, Colette Hawley 11, Marika Werk 4. Totals: 15 3-6.
Total fouls: Rocky Boy 9, Hays-Lodge Pole 12. Fouled out: none. Three-point goals: LaMere, T. Belcourt, Stiffarm 1.
Big Sandy 49, Turner 34 (lo)
Big Sandy 11 9 11 18 - 49
Turner 6 7 12 9 - 34
Big Sandy - Ashley Goodian 14, Naomi Williams 5, Sarah Yirsa 1, Shalayna Pearson 8, Sandy Zeiger 5, Brittany Marx 8, Jessica Amsbaugh 6, Shaila Cline 2. Totals 20 4-8.
Turner - Britney Jones 6, Ashley VanVoast 14, Cheryl Cowan 4, Kelsey Klindworth 10. Totals 14 6-14.
Total fouls - Big Sandy 17, Turner 10. Fouled out - none. Three-point goals - Goodian 4, Zeiger.