GREAT FALLS – The Box Elder girls basketball team came to Great Falls this past week to win a divisional championship and qualify for the state tournament.
The Belt Huskies didn’t allow the Bears to capture the Northern C title Saturday night at the Four Seasons Arena, but the Bears still have one chance to get to next week’s Class C state tournament, which will also be played in Great Falls.
Belt handed the Bears their first loss of the season Saturday night,
a 76-36 thrashing in the Northern C girls championship game. It was a tough night for Box Elder right from the get-go, but head coach Joel Rossette was no less proud of his team when all was said and done.
“This game doesn’t change who this team is,” Rossette said. “The girls on this team play with a lot of heart and they didn’t quit tonight. Belt took it to us early, things didn’t go our way and that’s life sometimes. You have to take your lumps. But I’m really proud of my team and after the game, we just tried to get them to understand, this isn’t over. We can still go to state. We just need them to understand they have to put this one behind them and get ready to play on Monday.”
The Bears (22-1) will have a chance tonight to rebound, as they take on the Winnett-Grass Range Rams in a Northern C challenge game at Great Falls High. The winner will join Belt at the state tournament next week.
“We play every game to win,” Rossette said. “We came here to win a divisional championship and we got close. We beat two very good teams in this tournament and I’m proud of our girls for the way they played.
“Tonight was tough though,” he added. “They (Huskies) shot it really well, especially the 3-pointers. And we had way too many turnovers, and that just turned into a deficit we couldn’t overcome. Belt was just too good tonight.”
And the Huskies, who are headed by for Chester great Jeff Graham were good indeed. Belt scorched the Bears for 26 points in the first quarter, including a 13-0 run where Kara Gerke hit back-to-back three’s. By the time the dust settled on the first eight minutes of play, the Huskies were up 26-8 and the onslaught only got worse.
Belt continued to press Box Elder on the defensive end, while pouring in triples and layups on the other. In all, Belt forced Box Elder into 21 first-half turnovers en route to a 55-17 lead and a running clock for the entire second half.
“It was just too tough to overcome some of the things Belt did to us,” Rossette said. “They just played really well.”
Crystal Stamper, Brandi Buffalo and Aricka Wolf Chief each scored nine points in the loss to the Huskies. Belt shot better than 50 percent from the floor and made eight three’s, while the Bears shot a solid 44 percent, but committed 24 turnovers.
As tough as Saturday night was, the Bears were certainly impressive in a 50-41 win over the Chester/J-I Hawks in Friday night’s semifinals. The game was a highly-anticipated showdown as only 60 miles separate the two Hi-Line schools, but in a remarkable season for both teams, it was their first meeting.
And Box Elder took control right from the start.
The Bears’ full-court press forced the Hawks into nine first-quarter turnovers, while Wolf Chief, Buffalo and Breanna Matt pushed Box Elder out to a 19-7 lead.
The Hawks didn’t take long to respond however.
Stina Haaland, Nikole Wolfe, Jocelyn Woods and Kate Graff all buried three’s in the second quarter and Box Elder only went up 27-25 at intermission. In the third quarter, the Bears took the game back though. Wolf Chief hit back-to-back three’s near the end of the period and Box Elder’s defense held the Hawks to just six points in the period. Box Elder took a 38-31 lead into the fourth, turned it to as big as a 13-point lead and then held the Hawks off down the stretch.
“Very proud of that win, proud of the way our girls played,” Rossette said. “We have played a lot of good teams this year and I just felt like we were ready for that game. Chester (J-I) is a tough team, but our girls were ready.”
Wolf Chief scored a game-high 21 points while Tristan Parisian added nine for the Bears. The Hawks, who were eliminated by Chinook on Saturday morning, got 12 points from Jenni Ghekiere and eight from Wolfe in the loss to the Bears.
Now Box Elder will look to get to the state tourney the hard way, as the Bears take on the Rams tonight in Great Falls. W-G-R lost to Belt in overtime in the semifinals on Friday night, its only loss of the season.
“We can’t hang our heads for too long,” Rossette said. “They (Rams) will try to go after us early, just like Belt did. We feel like we match up well with them though. I think if we can play well, we have a good chance.
“This has been a great year,” he added. “I’m so proud of this team. Tonight was a tough loss, but we’re still playing. We’re going to come back here on Monday night and try our hardest to win one more game.”
Box Elder 50, Chester/J-I 41 (sf)
Box Elder 19 8 11 12 — 50
C/J-I 7 18 6 10 41
Box Elder — Brandi Buffalo 7, Crystal Stamper 3, Aricka Wolf Chief 21, Tristan Parisian 8, Stephanie Sutherland 2, Breanna Maki 7, Kylee Raining Bird 2. Totals: 17 14-17.
C/J-I — Stine Haaland 6, McKinlay Sangwin 2, D. Haaland 2, Nicole Wolfe 8, Brittnee Theel 2, Jenni Ghekiere 12, Jocelyn Woods 3. Totals: 13 8-9.
Total fouls: Box Elder 14, CJI 14. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None. Three point goals: Wolf Chief 2S. Haaland 2, Wolfe 2, Graff 2, Woods 1.
Belt 76, Box Elder 36 (1st)
Box Elder 8 9 12 7 — 36
Belt 26 29 19 2 — 76
Box Elder — Brandi Buffalo 9, Crystal Stamper 9, Aricka Wolf Chief 9, Tristan Parisian 2, Jaylin Parker 3, Caitlyn Gamble 4. Totals: 14 5-11.
Belt — Kara Gerke 14, Holly Croff 6, Hannah Croff 7, Katie Fertterer 11, Kelley McCafferty 3, Kelsey Permann 15, Danielle Meissner 12, Maggie Croff 8. Totals: 27 14-17.
Total fouls: Box Elder 16, Belt 15. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None. Three point goals: Stamper 2, Parker 1, Gerke 4, Holly Croff 2, Fertterer 1, McCafferty 1.