By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Big Sandy girls basketball head coach Robin Pearson picked up his first-ever District 9C tournament win on Wednesday afternoon.
It was far from a work of art and he has about a billion more before he catches his predecessor Roy Lackner. But Pearson will take any win all the same.
The third-seeded Pioneers overcame a poor shooting performance and survived a scare from the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds, picking up a 52-39 win in first-round action at the HHS gymnasium.
"I just wanted to win that first won," a relieved Pearson said after the game. "We didn't very well. I don't think we shot 20 percent from the field."
Twenty percent might even be a little generous. Big Sandy simply could not get shots to fall, layups, three-pointers and free throws. And when they weren't missing shots, they were turning it over.
The Pioneers clung to a 22-19 lead at halftime, but did manage accomplishing its goal of getting Hays' 6-2 junior center Colette Hawley into foul trouble.
The talented Hawley played sparingly throughout the first half, but still managed eight points, most coming off on putbacks. The T-Birds got a lift from Sheena Shambo, who scored nine points in the first half including a pair of three-pointers.
"They did a good job of keeping Colette off the floor," said Hays coach Hank Doney. "We knew that was their game plan coming and they went right at her and got her into foul trouble."
Big Sandy came out in the second half, playing much more poised. It did help that the Pioneers drew another quick foul on Hawley sending her back to the bench for much of the period. Without her inside presence, Big Sandy started attacking the basket, outscoring the T-Birds 20-10 in the third period. Senior Ashley Goodian, who was not shooting well from three-point range scored eight points on a variety of drives to the basket.
"It was big not having Hawley on the floor," Pearson said. "It really opened things up for us. You feel kind of bad doing that, but we knew we'd be in trouble."
The Pioneers still found themselves in trouble in the fourth quarter. Hawley reentered the game early on and made her presence felt immediate. With her team down 44-31, Hawley scored eight consecutive points as the T-Birds cut the lead to 45-39.
"If she would have been able to do that the whole game, we'd have been in some serious trouble," Pearson said.
The run was doubly frustrating for Pearson, who was imploring his players to work some clock on offense with the lead.
"They just want to shoot," he said. "They can't resist the urge. I don't mind a good shot, but we were forcing some shots instead of being patient."
However, the T-Bird rally came to a screeching halt. A Brittany Marx jumpshot inside pushed the lead to 49-37. On the ensuing possession, Goodian came up with a steal. She was fouled on her layup attempt by Hays' K.K. Kirkaldie, who picked up a technical foul shortly thereafter. Goodian sank three of the four subsequent free throws to give Big Sandy a 10-point cushion.
"It gave us a little breathing room," Pearson said. "A 10-point lead is a little easier to deal with then a seven-point lead."
Goodian led Big Sandy with 20 points, but she wasn't her usual self from the outside, failing to sink a three-point shot in 10 attempts. Naomi Williams added 11 points for Big Sandy.
Hawley led the T-Birds with a game-high 22 points while Shambo added 13 in the loss.
Hays, which was playing on Wednesday after being snowed in on Tuesday, played later in the night and defeated Box Elder to remain alive in the tourney.
With the win, Big Sandy will face KG in tonight's semifinal at 8:30. Big Sandy is coming off a regular season win over KG in Big Sandy which Pearson believes will give his team some-much needed confidence.
"It showed that we can beat them," Pearson said. "With a young team that confidence is so important."
Pearson's focus will turn from stopping the tallest player in the conference in Hawley, to slowing down the conference's leading scorer in Cady Arifin.
"All you can do is try and slow her down," Pearson said. "You won't shut her down because she's so good at moving without the ball. We just have to play good solid defense, not let her penetrate while not giving open looks from three-point range. We have to where she's at all times. Even on offense, especially when were dribbling, she always seems to get her hands on the ball."
Big Sandy 52, Hays-Lodge Pole 39
Hays-Lodge Pole 8 11 10 10 - 39
Big Sandy 10 12 20 10 - 52
Hays-Lodge Pole - K.K. Kirkaldie 2, Jennifer Messerly 2, Sheena Shambo 13, Colette Hawley 22.
Big Sandy - Ashley Goodian 20, Naomi Williams 11, Sarah Yirsa 6, Shalayna Pearson 9, Brittany Marx 6, Jessica Amsbaugh 1.
Three-point goals - Shambo 3. Team Fouls - Hays-Lodge Pole 19 , Big Sandy 16. Fouled out - Kirkaldie, Williams. Technical fouls - Kirkaldie.