By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Kacy Herron has made plenty of baskets in the Havre High gymnasium in the past few years. This time it was a little different though.
Now sporting a different uniform, Herron looked plenty comfortable in her surroundings, scoring 15 points and leading the Big Sandy Pioneers to a 53-46 win over the KG KouGars in first-round action of the District 9C tournament.
Herron, who transferred to Big Sandy from Havre this summer, scored eight of the Pioneers first 15 points, to set the tone early.
"It's a little different," Herron admitted. "I felt like I had an advantage of having played in here a lot. I just felt really comfortable in my surroundings."
While Herron and the Pioneers looked comfortable early on, the KouGars seemed anything but.
Frustrated by Big Sandy's full-court pressure, KG was plagued by turnover after turnover at one point going seven straight possessions without even attempting a shot. The KouGars managed just two baskets in the first quarter and trailed 15-5.
"Being such a young team, I knew we could come into the tournament a little nervous," said KG head coach Jen Wendland. "We didn't really settle down for the entire first quarter."
Compounding the KouGars' problems was the early foul trouble of freshman center Tasha Dyrland, who picked up two quick fouls and sat for much of the first quarter and the beginning of the second.
"She's our go-to offensive player and when she is out the girls don't always know what to do offensively," Wendland said.
With Dyrland on the bench, Big Sandy started to pour it on in the beginning of the second quarter.
The Pioneers pushed the lead to 20-5 on a three-pointer from Shalayna Pearson.
Wendland brought Dyrland back into the game shortly thereafter and it paid off as she broke the KouGars scoreless drought with a score inside off a nice pass from Kate Vosen.
The bucket sparked the dormant KG offense. Back-to-back jumpshots from Whitney Hanson and another bucket from Dyrland cut the lead to 26-14.
Big Sandy kept pace with a basket inside from Pearson and two more scores from Herron, but for the most part Big Sandy's shots weren't falling.
"We were getting open looks but we just didn't shoot as well as we have all season," said Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner. "We were still pretty aggressive with our press and that got us some turnovers and easy baskets."
After such a horrendous start, Wendland and the KouGars were more than pleased to go into halftime trailing 28-16.
However, KG got off to another slow start after halftime as Big Sandy pushed the lead to 34-18 as Naomi Williams scored twice inside and Sandy Zeiger hit a jumpshot from the baseline.
But the KouGars started to claw back into the game getting seven points from Dyrland and five from Jodi Norman to trail 42-31 at the end of the third quarter.
"The big thing for us offensively is that we just started getting shots on most possessions," Wendland said. "Once we started getting shots instead of turnovers, we got some offensive rebounds and started making things happen."
KG continued to scrap its way back into the game cutting the lead to single digits early in the fourth quarter on Hanson's second 3-pointer of the game. But Big Sandy did what it had to do to keep the lead. Zeiger hit another short jumper and Herron scored on a tough drive to push the lead back to 12.
The KouGars continued to scrap, making a late push in the game's final minute as Vosen picked up a steal and layup, Dyrland sank a three and added a steal and a score, to cut the lead to 51-46 with 25 seconds left. But Big Sandy crushed the rally hopes, breaking KG's full-court pressure with long pass over the top to Morgan Darlington for an easy score.
"This is why I liked playing that first-round game instead of getting a first-round bye," Lackner said. "Even though we didn't play as well as we are capable, we were able to get out there and play and get some of the nerves out of the way."
Herron finished with a team-high 15 points to lead the Pioneers. Naomi Williams added 12 points, while Pearson chipped in with 11.
Dyrland led all scorers with 18 points, while Hanson added 10. But of all the stats that will linger in Wendland's mind, it will be the 40 turnovers her team committed.
"I don't care who you play, if you turn the ball over 40 times, you're not going to win many games," Wendland said. "We know teams are going to press us, we just have to be more mentally prepared when we step on the floor."
KG will see full-court pressure again when it faces Box Elder in loser-out tonight at 7 p.m.
"The jitters should be out of the way for us now," Wendland said. "I reminded the girls were still not out of it yet. That's one thing about this team, even though we only won two games, they have never given up and not played hard once this season.
Big Sandy will move into Thursday evening's semifinal against Blue Sky/J-I, a matchup Lackner anticipated coming in.
"There using a different lineup now," Lackner said of the Eagles. "The big thing will be if Robyn Schnitzmeier can play and how mobile she is after being injured. They've lose some depth in the post and Schnitzmeier would help."
Both Lackner and Herron believe the Pioneers will be sharper on Thursday.
"I think now that we have a game under our belts, we'll shoot the ball better," Herron said. "We just need to be a little more intense and run our offense better."
Said Lackner: "It's nice to come out and win even though we didn't play very well. It helps Kacy and some of the other girls who haven't been in this situation. Last year, they kind of came in under the radar. This year there are some expectations to be playing on Saturday night."
Big Sandy 53, KG 46
KG 5 11 15 15 - 46
Big Sandy 15 13 14 11 - 53
KG - Whitney Hanson 10, Jodi Norman 11, Kate Vosen 4, Kendra Donoven 3, Tasha Dyrland 18. Totals: 16 11-16 46.
Big Sandy - Naomi Williams 12, Sarah Yirsa 2, Kacy Herron 15, Sandy Zeiger 4, Shalayna Pearson 11, Jessica Amsbaugh 4, Morgan Darlington 5. Totals: 22 8-17 53.
Total Fouls - KG 18, Big Sandy 12. Fouled out - none 3-point goals - Pearson 1, Hanson 2, Dyrland 1.