GREAT FALLS — Losing in the first round of a divisional basketball tournament as difficult as the Northern C girls tournament is annually usually spells doom. But that didn’t turn out to be the case for the Chester/J-I Hawks, who came oh so close to earning a Class C state tournament berth.
The Hawks, who lost to North Star in overtime in Wednesday’s opening round, then ripped off four wins in three days, wound up third at the Northern C. C/J-I’s fifth game in four days was a challenge game against the high-powered Winnett-Grass Range Rams on Saturday night, and the Rams finally put a stop to C/J-I’s run with a 44-30 victory at the Four Seasons Arena.
The Hawks finished the season with both the District 10C regular season and tournament titles, a 22-4 overall record and a memorable ride all week in Great Falls.
“I’m so proud of all of the C/J-I ladies,” head coach Pat Goldhahn said. “They lost the heartbreak on Wednesday in overtime, but they responded. We came back and played like there was no tomorrow. The girls kept their composure and won a bunch of tight games. Given where we started this tournament, we were thrilled to have an opportunity to play in a challenge game to go to state. And I’m just absolutely proud of this team.”
Once in Saturday night’s challenge game, the Hawks ran into a brick wall in the form of the Winnett-Grass Range defense. The Rams led 11-2 early on and the Hawks didn’t hit their first field goal until Graff drilled a 3-pointer with :14 left in the quarter. In the second, W-G-R’s Martha Dembek and Kaylyn Delaney combined for 11 straight points, and the Hawks didn’t stop the run until Graff drilled another three to make the score 23-9 with 3:15 until half. The Rams eventually took a commanding 29-11 lead into intermission.
“First and foremost, give all the credit in the world to Winnett-Grass Range,” Goldhahn said. They are a fabulous team. Their defensive pressure is tremendous and I think they frustrated us, especially in the first half. They played a great game tonight.”
Behind more Delaney baskets, the Rams stretched their lead to 42-20 after the third quarter and they cruised home from there. The win pushed W-G-R into the Class C state tournament for the second straight year, as the Rams are now 22-1 on the season. W-G-R also knocked out a Hi-Line team in the challenge game for the second consecutive year, as the Rams also ended Box Elder’s season at the 2012 Northern C. Delaney passed W-G-R with 16 points and nine rebounds.
The Hawks got nine points from Caitlin Vinson and seven from Graff, while W-G-R’s defense forced C/J-I into 22 turnovers and just 30 percent shooting from the field.
Still, a third-place finish in arguably one of the toughest postseason tournaments is nothing to be disappointed in, and the way the Hawks rebounded after Wednesday’s heartbreaker is something Goldhahn and the Hawks won’t soon forget.
“I’m absolutely proud of these girls,” Goldhahn said. “It’s been a fantastic season. Every year we’ve managed to go a little farther in this tournament. Our four seniors and two juniors really led us this year and to get third place in this division is really incredible.”
Chester/J-I’s amazing run
The Hawks got to Saturday night’s challenge game with wins over a pair of bitter rivals, and that came after having to win an overtime game against Roy-Winifred on Thursday morning.
Still in loser-out action on Friday morning, the Hawks went up against the District 9C champion Chinook Sugarbeeters. And though they played well for much of the game, the Hawks had to go to overtime for a third straight day, just to keep their hopes of reaching the state tournament alive.
C/J-I led 22-16 at halftime and 31-22 at the end of three quarters. But the Beeters’ Makhayla Farmer got hot in the fourth quarter, as she scored 12 points in eight minutes to help Chinook close the gap and force an extra period. But C/J-I put the defensive clamps down again in overtime, and out-scored the Beeters 11-6 in the extra frame for the win.
Haley Harmon scored 15 points and Kate Graff added 15 for the Hawks. Chinook, which was one of just two teams to beat C/J-I during the regular season, got 18 points from Farmer and 11 from Talya Johnson in what was the Beeters’ final game of the season. Chinook ended the year with a 18-5 overall record.
And with one rival out of the way, the Hawks had a score to settle in Friday night’s consolation game against the North Star Knights, for it was North Star which sent the Hawks into the loser-out round on Wednesday afternoon.
But C/J-I turned the tables on the Knights Friday night at the Four Seasons Arena as they earned a 43-30 consolation game win over the Knights.
And while Wednesday’s game was a thriller, the Hawks made sure the rematch was not as close. C/J-I jumped out to an 11-5 lead behind a couple of buckets from Graff. Then, the Hawks went on a 7-0 run and led 20-9 with 2:44 until halftime. North Star got back-to-back baskets by Lisa Carlon to make it 22-11 at halftime, but C/J-I put the game away in the third period with an 11-0 spurt.
“We were sick of playing overtime games,” joked Goldhahn after the win against the Knights. “North Star is a very good team. Coach (Griff) Bye always does a great job with his teams. But we felt like we were playing well and we played with a lot of composure. You have to win your backs are against the wall like ours were, and I thought our kids just did a great job the entire tournament.”
In the consolation game, the Hawks were led by 14 points from Brittnee Theel and nine from Haley Harmon. Graff grabbed 14 rebounds. The Knights, who ended the year with a sparkling 17-7 record, got nine points from Lisa Carlon and seven fro Bettie Carlon.
After losing to Belt in the semifinals on Friday, North Star was able to advance to the consolation game with a 40-30 win over Dutton-Brady on Saturday morning. In that win, the Knights jumped out to a 16-2 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The Knights were led 13 points from Bettie Carlon, while Tylynn Rettig hit two 3-pointers and scored 12.
At the end of the Northern C, Belt, which is the defending Class C champion, and Winnett-Grass Range both advanced to this week’s Class C state tournament in Belgrade.
Chester/J-I 48 Chinook 43 (ot-lo)
C/J-I 11 11 9 6 11 — 48
Chinook 9 7 6 15 6 — 43
C/J-I — Haley Harmon 15, Denerey Haaland 5, Brittnee Theel 8, Kate Graff 14, Caitlin Vinson 6, Brittany Whitley 0. Totals: 13 18-27.
Chinook — Emily Dennis 3, Hannah Weber 6, Talya Johnson 11, Makhayla Farmer 18, Kalelyn Neibauer 3, Alana Smith 2. Totals: 15 8-10.
North Star 40, Dutton-Brady 30 (lo)
North Star 16 9 8 7 — 40
Dutton-Brady 2 13 7 8 — 30
North Star — MacKenzie Hansen 4, Lisa Carlon 3, Graysen Spicher 4, Tylynn Rettig 12, Bettie Carlon 13, Hansen Kassidy 2, Sheridan O’Neil 2, Kierra Miller 0. Totals: 17 4-8.
Dutton-Brady — Shannon Habel 8, Sierra Johnson 10, Taylor Reeve 2, Lacey Jones 2, Hailee VandenBos 8. Totals: 7 16-18.
Halftime: North Star 25-15. 3-pointers: North Star 2-9 (Rettig 2), D-B 0-14. Rebounds: North Star 28 (Rettig 6), D-B 19 (Johnson 7). Fouls: North Star 18, D-B 15. Fouled out: Johnson.
Chester/J-I 45, North Star 30 (3rd)
North Star 5 6 4 15 — 30
C/J-I 11 11 12 9 — 45
North Star — Mackenzie Hanson 4, Delaney Spicher 2, Lisa Carlon 9, Tylynn Rettig 6, Bettie Carlon 7, Kristyn Lavery 2. Totals: 11 8-11.
C/J-I – Haley Harmon 9, Denerey Haaland 7, Brittnee Theel 14, Erin Wolfe 5, Katelyn Graff 3, Caitlin Vinson 2, Brittany Whitley 3. Totals: 11 18-25.
Halftime: C/J-I 22-11. 3-pointers: North Star 0-10, C/J-I 3-12 (Harmon 1, Wolfe 1, Whitley 1). Rebounds: North Star 31 (L. Carlon 10), C/J-I 30 (Graff 14). Fouls: North Star 19, C/J-I 9. Fouled out: Bettie Carlon.
Winnett/G. Range 44, Chester/J-I 30 (2nd)
C/J-I 6 5 9 10 — 30
WGR 12 17 13 2 — 44
C/J-I — Peyton Cole 2, Denerey Haaland 5, Brittnee Theel 2, Erin Wolfe 2, Katelyn Graff 7, Caitlin Vinson 9, Brittany Whitley 3. Totals: 9 10-15.
WGR — Martha Dembek 9, Angie Murnion 7, Brittany Murnion 2, Heather Matovich 2, Jamie Stahl 2, Katlyn Murnion 2, Pari Iverson 4, Kaylyn Delaney 16. Totals: 19 5-8.
Halftime: Winnett-Grass Range 29-11. 3-pointers: C/J-I 2-8 (Graff 2), W-G-R 1-8 (Demebk 1). Rebounds: C/J-I 19 (Haaland 4), W-G-R 29 (Delaney 9). Fouls: C/J-I 17, W-G-R 10. Fouled out: None.