By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Deja what? Reliving the nightmare of last season's semifinal loss in the District 9C tournament was nothing more than just a possibility for the Blue Sky girls basketball team.
The duo of Lindsay Anderson and Kaila Warren - two players who went through the nightmare firsthand - wasn't about to let that happen.
Anderson kept the top-seeded Eagles in the game early and Warren put the Eagles ahead of a scrappy Rocky Boy Morning Star squad en route to a 57-51 win semifinal action Thursday afternoon at the Havre High gymnasium.
It looked early on that Blue Sky might be heading toward another disappointment as Rocky Boy outscrapped and out hustled the Eagles early on.
Blue Sky looked a little rusty having had a first-round bye in the tournament as they missed wide-open shots, including several layups. The Eagles never converted a field goal in the first quarter and got just three free throws from Anderson.
"It definitely bothered us some," Blue Sky head coach Liz Campbell said of the long break. "The tournament started on Tuesday and we didn't play until today. We've been sitting around watching these games. We practiced but its not the same."
While Blue Sky was trying to find its rhythm, Rocky Boy wasn't exactly crisp either. The Stars got a three-pointer from Ronnie Jo LaMere and four points from Marty Rae Stiffarm inside to go up 7-3 after the first quarter.
The Eagles' shooting woes didn't get much better in the second half. Blue Sky made just three field goals, all from Anderson. Blue Sky did most of its damage from the free-throw line, sinking 8-10 in the quarter.
"It's not like we weren't getting good looks," Campbell said. "We were getting great looks, but they just weren't going in."
Rocky Boy didn't share in the offensive troubles. Freshman Tori Belcourt scored 10 points in the quarter, including a pair of three-pointers. The Stars took a 21-17 lead into halftime, but the early success came with a price as Stiffarm, Rocky Boy's leading scorer, picked up her third foul midway through the quarter and went out of the game.
Down only four going into halftime was a relief to Campbell considering how poorly her team shot in the first half.
"I told them at halftime that our shooting drought wouldn't last forever," Campbell said. "We've never shot that badly for four quarters in any of our games and that wasn't going to stop now."
Perhaps no player took Campbell's words to heart more than Warren. The junior guard and second-leading scorer for Blue Sky was held to just two points - a pair of free throws - in the first half. In fact, Warren didn't recall even attempting a field goal in the first half. But she'll recall the third quarter for the rest of her life.
It started out innocently as she stole the ball on the opening inbounds play of the half for an uncontested layup. But that was only the beginning. In the next 45 seconds, Warren sank three consecutive three-pointers from the corner as Blue Sky roared back to take a 28-25 lead.
"Coach tells us to keep shooting," Warren said. "They were in a zone and we did a good job of working the ball around and finding the open person."
Blue Sky got a pair of scores from Kile Patrick to go up 32-24. But the quarter belonged to Warren.
With the basket looking about the size of the Grand Canyon, Warren banged home her fourth three-pointer to push the lead to double digits. She still wasn't through. Another short jumpshot and a pair of three-pointers bumped the lead to 46-34 at the end of third quarter.
"The basket looked pretty big," she said. "But I started forcing a few shots. It's easy to do when you're feeling it."
Warren credited her hot shooting with making her first couple shots.
"That's how it goes with me," she said. "If I make the first couple, I'll usually make the rest of them."
In all, Warren drained six three-pointers and two other field goals for 22 points. She single-handedly outscored Rocky Boy, specifically the Belcourt twins, 22-17
With Stiffarm out of the game, the Stars had little presence inside, forcing Belcourt and her twin sister, Loni, to take over the bulk of the offensive production. The duo scored all 17 of Rocky Boy's points in the quarter on a mixture of drives, free throws and three-pointers.
"Not having Marty Rae out there really hurts us," said Rocky Boy head coach Derek Small. "We didn't have much for scoring except for Loni and Tori."
Stiffarm came back on the floor late in the third quarter and made her presence felt in the fourth quarter. A pair of drives to the basket netted three free throws and a Tori Belcourt steal and pull-up three-pointer cut the lead to 46-42. Warren answered with a putback inside, but a free throw from Tori Belcourt and a steal and layup from Loni Belcourt whittled the lead down to three.
After watching Warren hit three-pointer after three-pointer, Anderson got back into the act, knocking down a huge three-pointer from the wing to push the lead back to a 51-45 lead with 4:49 left in the game.
"She hits big shots," Campbell said. "Lindsay's definitely a leader on this team and the way she kept us in it in the first half showed what that means."
Rocky Boy tried frantically to rally, but missed shots and missed free throws proved to be too much to overcome.
Blue Sky iced the game on a Patrick layup set up by a nifty pass from Holly Haas to go up 53-45 with 3:26 left.
Warren finished with a game-high 29 points while Anderson finished with 16. The Eagles also got solid game from Patrick with eight points. It's that balance that helped Blue Sky win the regular season conference title.
"That's the great thing about our team, anyone can score for us on any given night," Campbell said. "Tonight it happened to be Kaila. Our girls knew she had the hot hand and fed her the ball. If it hadn't been her, it would have been someone else.
The Belcourts combined to score 36 points with Tori scoring 19 and Loni finishing with 17. Stiffarm chipped in with 12 in limited action.
"We had a lot of young girls on the floor at once and we made some mistakes," Small said. "We're still a pretty young team. The girls played their hearts out. There's not much more I can ask for."
Blue Sky will face KG in the 9C championship game on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. It's the goal that the Eagles set shortly after the disappointing end to last year's season, when they missed out on the Northern C Divisional tournament.
"Blue Sky hasn't been known to be an amazing tournament team," Warren said. "But we were out to prove that wrong today."
Blue Sky 57, Rocky Boy 51
Blue Sky 3 14 29 11 - 57
Rocky Boy 7 14 13 17 - 51
Blue Sky - Holly Haas 4, Kaila Warren 29, Lindsay Anderson 16, Maia Aageson 2, Kile Patrick 8, Megan Warren 1, Ashley Gatzemeier 1. Totals: 18 14-23 57.
Rocky Boy - Loni Belcourt 17, Ronnie LaMere 3, Tori Belcourt 19, Marty Rae Stiffarm 12. Totals: 16 14-31 51.
Total fouls - Blue Sky 25, Rocky Boy 20. Fouled out - Brianne Horinek (Blue Sky), Schnitzmeier. Three-point goals - K. Warren 6, Anderson 1, T. Belcourt 3, L. Belcourt, LaMere 1.