The meeting between the North Star Knights and Big Sandy Pioneers on the basketball court can always be expected to be a battle.
And in the District 9C semifinals on Thursday night, it was just that. The Knights (15-4) defeated the Pioneers (12-8) 58-49. The win puts the Knights into Saturday’s championship game against top-seeded Chinook, while the loss puts the Pioneers into loser-out action against Hays-Lodge Pole tonight at 6.
It was neck-and-neck nearly the entire game, but midway through the fourth quarter, the Knights were finally able to pull away. North Star held a narrow 38-37 lead after three complete quarters. But after outscoring the Pioneers 20-12 in the final frame, the Knights clinched the game that was a back and forth battle.
The Knights had to overcome a 17-14 deficit after the first quarter, and a 28-28 tie at the break before pulling off the win.
“They (Pioneers) have a size advantage,” North Star head coach Griff Bye said. “But we are a good enough defensive team that we can take a lot of things away. I think we played nervous the first half and we didn’t communicate. But we started jumping in the passing lanes, and our kids stepped up and made some big plays. That is what we do best and that is what has helped us all year, we are a fast team.”
Mateila Cline drilled a 3-pointer for the Pioneers with six minutes left to play, giving the Big Sandy a 42-41 lead, and seemingly grabbing the momentum. But on the ensuing possession, the Knights’ Bettie Carlon drained a trey of her own to give the Knights a 44-42 lead. Lisa Carlon followed with a two-point field goal after a Big Sandy turnover to give the Knights a 46-42 lead, and Bettie Carlon did the exact same, converting a Big Sandy turnover into two North Star points, and a 48-42 lead with just five minutes left to play. From there, the Knights began to steadily keep their distance until the final whistle blew.
In the remaining five minutes, the Knights outscored the Pioneers 10-7. The North Star defense also forced eight turnovers in the frame and 21 in the contest. The Knights also scored 16 points off of turnovers, running the floor and beating the Pioneers in transition.
Graysen Spicher and Bettie Carlon led the Knights with 16 points each, while Lisa Carlon added 14 points. Kassidy Hansen also kicked in six points, while Tylynn Rettig and Mackensie Hansen combined for six more. The North Star offense also shot over 51 percent from the field, as well as 52 percent from the free-throw-line, and 43 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Spicher, a freshman, shot 5-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 from three.
“We didn’t shoot too bad tonight,” said Bye. “But I was pleased with the effort and the willingness to step up and take the shot and the willingness to get to the basket. We went through some soft spots where we expected somebody else to make the play, but we started getting into the gaps and that helped.
“I just came out and did my thing I guess,” Spicher added. “We worked on shooting (against their zone) in practice a lot, we needed to spread them out so we could drive, penetrate, and shoot from outside. But it is exciting knowing that I helped out and I am excited for the team.”
Big Sandy was led by Brooke Leader’s 16 points and Leela Engle’s 13. Cline added 10 and Molly Herron added eight, as the Pioneers shot 47 percent from the field and just 46 percent from the charity stripe.
With the win, the Knights must now prepare to face Chinook in the championship game on Saturday night. Chinook is a talented squad, and has great shooting guards, as well a height advantage inside.
“We split with them on the year, but it is kind of the same thing,” Bye said. “They are bigger than we are. We have to figure out how to stop them with our pressure. We won’t necessarily steal the ball all the time, but we need to keep them out of their offense and play a little more aggressive.”
Saturday night’s championship game between North Star and Chinook is set for 6 p.m. The winner advances to the Northern C next week in Great Falls.
North Star 58, Big Sandy 49 (SF)
North Star 14 14 10 20 – 58
Big Sandy 17 11 9 12 – 49
North Star – Mackenzie Hansen 2, Lisa Carlon 14, Graysen Spicher 16, Tylynn Rettig 4, Bettie Carlon 16, Kassidy Hansen 6. Totals: 23-25 9-17 58.
Big Sandy – Brooke Leader 16, Molly Herron 8, Leela Engle 13, Kaylie Gilman 2, Mateila Cline 10. Totals 21-45 6-13 49.
Halftime: 28-28. 3-pointers: North Star 3-7 (Spicher 2), Big Sandy 1-3 (Cline). Rebounds: North Star 29 (Lisa Carlon 7, M. Hansen 5, Bettie Carlon 5, K. Hansen 5), Big Sandy 27 (Gilman 9, Leader 6). Fouls: North Star 13, Big Sandy 15. Fouled out: None.