The Box Elder Bears may be the fourth seed in a loaded District 9C girls tournament. But they certainly didn’t look like it on the first day of action at the Havre High gymnasium.
Instead, the Bears (11-8) looked like the defending 9C champions they are as they marched past Hays-Lodge Pole 63-55 Wednesday afternoon, and right into today’s semifinals. The Bears, who will now face top-seeded Chinook in the semifinals, used a big second-half push to get by a game Thunderbirds’ squad.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Box Elder senior Rebecca Rossette said. “We beat Hays (Lodge Pole) both times this season, but they came out and played hard today. It was a tough game, but a good one for us, because I thought we played really well in the second half. I’m just really proud of my team, and I love playing with this team.”
The Bears needed a big second half in order to push the T-Birds away. Because, despite committing 24 first-half turnovers, the T-Birds made things interesting. Box Elder led 8-3 early on after Alicia Wolf Chief nailed a 3-pointer, and the Bears were ahead 15-11 after one quarter. However, the second quarter was a barn burner as HLP picked up the pace. The T-Birds went on a 12-3 run behind big plays from Pauline Siers and Shakayla Whitecow, and all of a sudden, they were ahead 26-25 at intermission.
“We didn’t help our cause in the first half,” Box Elder head coach Joel Rossette said. “We forced them (T-Birds) to turn it over a lot, but then we would give the ball right back with a turnover. So we made a couple of adjustments at halftime and we took much better care of the ball. From there, everything fell into place.”
Box Elder quickly took the lead back from HLP on eight straight points by Wolf Chief, including two more triples. Still, HLP battled, and trailed only 46-40 at the end of the third quarter, in spite of a Krista Chief Stick three for the Bears near the end of the period.
But in the final frame, Box Elder’s offense was just too much, and the Bears finally started to pull away. The Bears shot 54 percent in the final 16 minutes, as opposed to just 32 percent in the first half, and that turned out to be the difference. Baskets by Rebecca Rossette, Stephanie Sutherland and Chief Stick helped push the lead to as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter and HLP never recovered.
“I’m proud of the girls,” Joel Rossette said. “They really played much better in the second half, and it’s always tough to get this first game of the tournament. I thought we really hounded them (T-Birds) on defense the whole day. I thought we played really hard.”
Wolf Chief nailed three trey’s and scored 16 points, while Rebecca Rossette had 14. Chief Stick added 11 and Sutherland scored 10, while the Bears also forced the T-Birds into a whopping 40 turnovers.
HLP (6-13), which will drop into loser-out play Friday at 6 p.m., got a game-high 23 points and 15 rebounds from Whitecow, while Chassanna Doney added 13, and Siers scored 10 before fouling out.
With the win Wednesday, the Bears are set for this afternoon’s matchup with the Sugarbeeters (15-3). It’s a rematch of the 2012 championship game, which Box Elder prevailed in. But Chinook beat the Bears twice during the regular season, and coach Rossette said his team will have to improve greatly in order to move on and have a chance to defend their 9C crown Saturday night.
“We’re going to need to come out with that same intensity and pressure we had today,” he said. “We also have to rebound better. That’s something we haven’t done well against them (Beeters) this season. If we do rebound the ball, and the shots are falling, then I think it will be a really competitive game.”
Chinook and Box Elder meet this afternoon at 1 at the HHS gymnasium. The winner moves on to Saturday night’s championship game to face either North Star or Big Sandy.
Box Elder 63, Hays-Lodge Pole 55
HLP 11 15 14 15 – 55
Box Elder 15 10 21 17 – 63
HLP – Pauline Siers 10, Chassanna Doney 13, Shakayla Whitecow 23. Totals: 23-50 8-14 55.
Box Elder – Michelle Winchell 2, Lelani Gardipee 11, Alicia Wolf Chief 16, Misty Baker 2, Krista Chief Stick 8, Rebecca Rossette 14, Stephanie Sutherland 10. Totals: 24-56 11-22 63.
Halftime: HLP 26-25. 2-pointers: HLP 1-7 (Whitecow 1), Box Elder 4-13 (Wolf Chief 3, Rossette 1). Rebounds: HLP 36 (Whitecow 15), Box Elder 32 (Wolf Chief 6). Fouls: HLP 20, Box Elder 15. Fouled out: Siers, Gardipee.