By Joe Whalen
The lowest point total for Big Sandy this season resulted in the undefeated Lady Pioneers' biggest win of the year Saturday in the District 9C girls basketball championship at Havre High.
With senior forwards Amy Silvan and Katherine Bitz combining with junior center Sheena Darlington to score 45 points, Big Sandy recovered from Box Elder's impressive third-quarter rally and held on to defeat the Bears 51-42 to capture its third consecutive district tournament title and seventh in the past nine years.
"It was nice to get another one. It's a pride thing," Big Sandy coach Roy Lackner said. "We've got three starters coming back next year, so it may not be the last time people see us in this championship game."
The victory, Big Sandy's third in a row over Box Elder this season, assured the Lady Pioneers (20-0) of a berth in the Class C Northern Divisional Championships set to begin Thursday at Havre High. The Bears (16-5) secured a spot in the divisional tournament by virtue of their victory over consolation champion Blue Sky in Friday's semifinals.
"Big Sandy usually blows people out on a consistent basis, sometimes by 50 points or more," Box Elder Coach Shiloh Schwab- Hannum said. "It gives us confidence that we were able to play with them, and that gives us confidence going into divisionals."
After Silvan broke out for 13 of her 17 points in the second quarter to give Big Sandy a 28-18 lead at the half, Box Elder senior guard Kristie Pullin scored nine of her team-high 13 points in the third quarter to help stage a dramatic comeback. In the period's waning seconds, Pullin rolled off a screen and drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the score at 36.
But Big Sandy opened the fourth quarter with two inside baskets from Darlington and one from Bitz to reassert a six-point lead. Sophomore shooting guard Ashley Goodian provided two insurance baskets for the Lady Pioneers, and teammate Lindsey Danreuther directed a spread offense that sealed the outcome.
Moments after the final buzzer, Lackner approached Pullin and praised the opposing player.
"He just said I was a great player, and that he didn't care if it was a win or a loss tonight, because divisionals is when we really start to play," Pullin said. "That's what will determine who is the better team and who goes on to states."
Despite shooting 20-of-60 (33.3%) from inside the arc and 4-of-24 (16.7%) from three-point range, the Lady Pioneers found other avenues to victory, one of which was to use a diamond-and-one defense to slow Box Elder junior Tami Infante, a multi-talented guard who scored six points in the first half before being held by Goodian to two points after intermission. Bitz, Darlington and Silvan each finished with 11 rebounds.
"It isn't how many points you score. As long as you score one more than your opponent, you're doing good," Lackner said. "We just didn't shoot well, and that made the game tough. But we did some other things wellAshley Goodian wasn't our shooting star tonight, but she was definitely a defensive star for us. She kept Tami from running wild."
After Infante scored a layup off a fast break to give the Bears a five-point edge with about three minutes left in the second quarter, Big Sandy stole momentum behind a 15-0 run. Silvan and Bitz each sank a three-pointer in the final 43 seconds to effectively end the Lady Pioneers' shooting woes.
"I didn't think we'd ever get a shot to fall," Silvan said. "But after we hit a couple three-pointers, I was pumped."