Havre Daily News
The third time was the charm for the Rocky Boy Morning Stars as they outshined the North Star Knights, 67-55, in the semifinals of the District 9C girls basketball tournament Thursday night in Havre.
The Knights had beaten the Morning Stars twice in the regular season and hoped that history would repeat itself.
North Star jumped ahead early and took control of the first quarter, and the Knights led by as much as four points in the early going. At the end of the first eight minutes of play, the Knights held a slim lead, 14-12.
Rocky Boy tied the game up quickly at the start of the second quarter as Shaneen Raining Bird converted a basket, making it 14-14. The two teams continued to exchange baskets the rest of the quarter.
Finally, late in the second quarter, the Morning Stars seized control of the game as they closed the first half on a 14-4 run that gave them a fairly comfortable cushion, 30-22.
“All year long we have had problems rebounding because we are not as big as some other teams,” Rocky Boy head coach Deb LaMere said. “But tonight the girls did a good job of rebounding the ball.
“They (Knights) also have an excellent three-post offense,” she added. “They are very good at executing their offense and we just wanted to try and contain them and not let them score a bunch of points down low.”
When the third quarter began, Rocky Boy picked up where it left off at halftime.
Loni Belcourt opened up the second half by nailing a 3-pointer, then Raining Bird connected on a basket of her own, and all of a sudden the Morning Stars' lead was 11 points, 35-24.
North Star answered with baskets from Natasha Dyrland and Jodi Norman.
However, Loni Belcourt once again connected from beyond the arc while being fouled. After she converted the free throw, the lead was pushed back out to 40-28.
All throughout the third quarter and the rest of the game, North Star was playing catch-up and could not quite find the offense to do so.
By the end of the third period, Rocky Boy was 12 points ahead, 48-36, and things were not looking good for the Knights.
“You have to give credit to Rocky Boy. They did a good job of handling our pressure defense and getting the ball inside,” North Star head coach Brian Campbell said. “They did a good job of working the ball inside and scoring, and that really set the tone for the entire game.”
As the fourth quarter began, the Knights hoped to make one final charge at the Morning Stars.
Behind the play of Dyrland and Norman, the Knights cut the lead to eight points, 48-40, with five mintues to play.
Then Loni Belcourt once again stepped up and took over the game when her team needed it.
She nailed a basket and made two trips to the charity stripe. Belcourt connected on four straight free-throw opportunities, giving her team a 54-42 lead.
At that point the Knights picked up their pace a little bit because time was quickly running out. They had only a few minutes to work with and they faced a 16-point deficit.
The Knights were down 57-44 when Dryland drilled a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 10 points at 57-47.
Following another basket by Courtney Wendland, the lead was down to eight points at 57-49, and with just minutes to go it appeared the Knights were about to make their final push for the lead.
But North Star simply didn't hit enough big shots down the stretch. The game turned into a free-throw shooting contest in the final minutes, with the Morning Stars making 9-of-12 free throws to ice the game.
“We really wanted to win this game,” Loni Belcourt said. “It was very important to us and it feels really good to know that we got the win and that we are playing in the championship game.”
Loni Belcourt led the way for the Morning Stars with a game-high 24 points, including three clutch 3-pointers in the second half. Raining Bird contributed 17 points in the win.
The Knights were led by Dyrland's 21 points and 10 rebounds. Norman added 14 points in the loss.
“Loni really stepped up for us tonight,” LaMere said. “She can beat anyone to the basket and she uses that to her advantage when she steps back and shoots.”
With the victory, Rocky Boy advances into District 9C championship game where it will face the Big Sandy Pioneers at 8:30 Saturday night at the HHS gymnasium. It is the second straight year that the Pioneers and Morning Stars will meet for the district championship.
“The entire team played well tonight. It was an entire team effort,” LaMere said. “It feels great to be in the championship game. The kids stepped up and did everything I asked of them. We are optimistic heading into the championship game. All we can do is be ready to play, and play tough.”
North Star will play in a loser-out game against Hays-Lodge Pole tonight at 8:30.
Morning Stars 67, Knights 55
North Star 14 8 14 19 - 55
Rocky Boy 12 18 18 19 - 67
North Star - Maia Aageson 2, Natasha Dyrland 21, Allison Grant 6, Jodi Norman 14, Jourdon Han 6, Courtney Wendland 6. Totals 19 14-17 55.
Rocky Boy - Shaneen Raining Bird 17, Loni Belcourt 17, Courtney St. Pierre 2, Tori Belcourt 14, Frances Eagleman 2, Apryl Webster 2, Erin Broncho 6. Totals 15 29-33 67.
3-pointers - Rocky Boy 3 (Belcourt 3) North Star 1 (Dyrland). Fouls - North Star 25, Rocky Boy 18. Fouled out - Aageson, Norman.