Havre Daily News sports editor
The Chinook Sugarbeeters had used their size advantage against Hays-Lodge Pole to advance to the semifinals of the District 9C girls basketball tournament.
On Wednesday afternoon at the Havre High gymnasium, it was the Beeters who got pushed around inside as top-seeded Big Sandy rode the inside game of senior Naomi Williams to a 61-48 semifinal win over Chinook.
Williams scored a game-high 24 points and snatched 14 rebounds, mostly in the second half, as Big Sandy advanced to yet another District 9C championship game under veteran head coach Roy Lackner.
“We didn't come out and play as well as I would have liked today,” Lackner said. “But we did enough to win and in this tournament that is all that matters.
“Naomi Williams really was big for us,” he added. “She is a very tough player and she always seems to play well in this tournament.”
Chinook head coach Mark Roseberry agreed that Williams' play in the second half, coupled with Big Sandy's overall size on the front line, was the difference in the game.
“Naomi has done that to us three times this season,” Roseberry said. “I don't know what it is, but she has just killed us when we play them.
“But Big Sandy is so tough inside anyway,” he added. “Shalayna Pearson is strong and then when they bring in Laci Keller, who is a 6-1 freshman - wow.”
For two quarters it appeared as though the Beeters' had enough in the tank to make things interesting. Chinook played a very solid first quarter, and even though the Pioneers made a little run in the second period, the Beeters only trailed 33-24 at the break.
“I thought we did some good things in the first half,” Roseberry said. “I think things could have been closer, but we went through a stretch in the second quarter where we turned the ball over and they capitalized. That is what Big Sandy is so good at. They make you pay for your mistakes.”
Indeed, the Beeters committed 11 of their 16 turnovers in the first half. If it hadn't been for those miscues, Chinook would have been much closer as the third quarter began.
But whether Chinook trailed by nine points or less may not have mattered in the second half because Williams was about to explode. The 5-10 senior scored half of her 24 points in the second half and was dominant on the defensive end of the floor as well as the boards. With Williams clicking on all cylinders, the Pioneers went on a 13-2 run midway through the third stanza to lead 43-30.
“Naomi just did a great job, and I think getting the ball inside was a big key for us,” Lackner said. “We didn't shoot it as well as we normally do, so getting a lot of touches in the paint was key. Laci Keller did a great job when she got in there too.”
With the Pioneers leading by 15 points at the start of the fourth quarter, Chinook was forced into catch-up mode, and the Pioneers thrive when they have opponents on their heels. Despite outscoring the Pioneers in the final stanza, Chinook never threatened.
For the second straight night, the Beeters also struggled mightily from the free-throw line, which also hampered their ability to come back. Chinook made just 6-of-18 free-throw attempts.
In addition to Williams' night, the Pioneers got 13 points from Kacy Herron and 11 from Pearson. The Beeters were paced by Crystal Roseberry and Kassie Dugan with 15 points apiece.
The loss bumps Chinook into today's loser-out game, where they will face the upset-minded Box Elder Bears.
“We didn't play as well as we would have liked today,” Roseberry said. “But all year our kids have stayed positive. So they won't dwell on this.
“We know Box Elder is a dangerous team and Rokki Parker is playing as well as anybody right now. Our kids know they will have to be ready to play and hopefully we'll bounce back and make a run at third place.”
Meanwhile, the Pioneers are back in the 9C title game for a second straight season. Although Big Sandy has aspirations of defending its 9C crown, Lackner put things in a much different perspective.
“In order for us not to go to divisionals, we have to be beat twice now,” Lackner said. “That is what matters to me. Getting to divisionals. We got the game we really wanted, which was this one.
“But our kids have been here before,” he added. “They know what is at stake on Saturday night and they'll be ready.”
The Pioneers will face third-seeded Rocky Boy in a rematch of the 2005 9C girls championship game on Saturday night at 8:30.
Pioneers 61, Beeters 48
Big Sandy 17 16 14 14 - 61
Chinook 14 10 9 15 - 48
Big Sandy - Naomi Williams 24, Kacy Herron 13, Shalayna Pearson 11, Jessica Amsbaugh 4, Morgan Darlington 2, Laci Keller 5, Josie Herron 2. Totals: 27 7-13 61.
Chinook - Dawn Kellam 4, Cheyanne Hamilton 4, Crystal Roseberry 15, Jacque McMaster 4, Morgan Obie 2, Kassie Dugan 15, Georgia Barber 4. Totals: 21 6-18 48.
3-pointers - None; Total Fouls - Big Sandy 15, Chinook 7; Fouled out - None.