By Kim Staudinger
The toughest thing about competing in the district tournament for many teams is knowing you must make it to the championship game if you want to be assured a birth to the divisional tournament.
For the Blue Sky Eagles (12-10) and KG KouGars (7-15), playing in the consolation final Saturday night at Havre High School and having to fight back through the loser's bracket was a challenge all on its own. If Blue Sky could come away victorious, they would have to hope for Box Elder to pull off an upset over top-ranked Big Sandy to play in a challenge game. The KouGars, however, simply needed to win and hope the odds would work in their favor for a challenge game.
But thanks to all-around strong play by the Eagles and four players scoring over 12 points, Blue Sky came away with an emotional 62-36 victory over KG to earn third-place honors.
Blue Sky started strong, creating a seven-point lead after the first quarter and increasing that lead to nine heading into the half. While Blue Sky appeared to have control of the game, it was in the second half where the dominance really began to show.
"Tonight's game came down to we had more quality kids," Blue Sky coach Darin Hannum said during halftime of the championship game. "We hustled more and ran up and down the floor a lot."
The Eagles outscored KG 19-5 in the third quarter, including a 9-0 run beginning the quarter. Jessica Patrick scored seven points in the quarter followed by six by Natalie Strissel.
Turnovers were the huge difference for KG, committing 10 more than the Eagles on the game. The Eagles also dominated on the boards, grabbing 52 rebounds to 36 for the KouGars.
"We did really well considering we were missing two key players," KouGar coach Heidi Borlaug said. "We were taking good shots, they just weren't going in. That's just how it goes.
"We came in fifth and we are going to go home fourth. I am very proud of them."
For the young Eagles team, the tournament was a mixture of very positive results.
"Jessica Patrick had a really great couple of games," Hannum said. "Lindsay Anderson ran the floor well for us and played good defense. Cassidy Han in all but one game of the tournament has had a double-double."
Strissel led all scorers with 14 points and eight rebounds. Strissel was closely followed by Han with 13 points and 14 rebounds and Anderson with 13 points. Patrick also scored in double digits with 12 points and added nine rebounds.
Malissa Williams led the way for KG with seven points followed by Abbie Toner with six.
In the Saturday morning games, KG defeated Turner 56-32 and Blue Sky won over Rocky Boy 56-34.
Friday night action saw the KouGars falling to Big Sandy 86-15. The KouGars failed to score in the first quarter and only scored two points in the second, en route to the disappointing loss.
In the other semifinal game, the Blue Sky Eagles were knocked into the loser's bracket by Box Elder, a rivalry which goes beyond two competitive teams from district 9C.
For the second time in two years, Blue Sky coach Darin Hannum and wife, Box Elder coach, Shiloh Schwab-Hannum faced off in the semifinal round Friday night. Last year Box Elder won, making this year's game a game with a little more riding on it than simply a birth to the state tournament. The winner advanced to the championship game, while the loser had to sit back and hope for a challenge game.
Intensity filled the air in the gym as the Eagles took an early 8-0 lead, forcing coach Schwab to take a timeout. Whatever was said during the timeout worked as Box Elder scored six unanswered points, resulting in Hannum wanting a timeout to talk to his Eagles. Unfortunately, Hannum's timout was not as successful as his wife's because Box Elder scored eight more unanswered points to take a 14-8 lead. Blue Sky made one more shot before the quarter ended, while Box Elder made three, giving the Bears a 19-10 lead.
Blue Sky edged back in the second quarter to cut the gap to 36-30 at the half. But the intermission proved helpful for Box Elder as they came out strong in the third, amassing a 58-41 lead going into the final quarter of play. The Eagles could not recover from the deficit and Box Elder rolled into the championship game with a 73-54 win.