By Kim Staudinger
The Belt Huskies came into this weekend's Northern C Divisional Tournament as a team favored to possibly pull out an upset of one of the tournament favorites Big Sandy or Chester.
But what Belt didn't anticipate was nearly losing in first-round action to Grass Range on Thursday night. Grass Range outscored the Huskies in every quarter except for the second and lost by four points, 49-45, in the closest game of the day.
Belt spent the last two minutes of the game trying to stall with a 49-42 lead. But Grass Range came away with two steals while the Huskies failed to score in the span.
Justine Larson went to the line twice for Belt in that time, but missed all three of her free throws, keeping the game close. Grass Range's Renae Knerr came up with a chance to pull the Rangers to within five with 40 seconds remaining in the game, but only made one of two free throws, leaving Belt's lead at six. After Larson's second effort at the free throw line, Grass Range got the ball back with 35 ticks still on the clock.
Grass Range was unable to get a shot off until Kayla Olsen picked off a steal, getting a lay-up to fall as time expired.
Belt took control of the game early, but the Rangers battled back to take an 8-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Belt's Laura Keaster hit a three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one.
Belt scored five straight points in just over one minute of play in the third, giving the Huskies a 17-12 lead. Belt outscored Grass Range 10-7 in the remaining four minutes of the half to take a 27-19 lead into the third quarter.
The Rangers outscored the Huskies 26-22 in the second half, but the damage had already been done as Belt fended off Grass Range for the win.
Knerr led all scorers with 18 points. Olsen added 10 points for the Rangers in the losing effort.
Anna Burnham led the way for Belt with 11 points, followed by Larson and Hallie McCafferty with 10.
Grass Range Jessi Martin 6, Kayla Olsen 10, Renae Knerr 18, Abbey Ahlgren 6, Jenni Martin 5.
Belt Molly Sweeney 8, Justine Larson 10, Laura Keaster 6, Hallie McCafferty 10, Megan Wichman 4, Anna Burnham 11.