Knights ground T-Birds in a thriller
North Star gets into 9C semifinals with a close win over improved Hays-Lodge Pole
February 14, 2019
The Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds are perhaps the most-improved team in the District 9C this season. But, over the last month, no team has been playing with as much momentum as the North Star Knights.
So, it was no surprise that, in Wednesday's opening round of the 9C girls tournament, the two teams butted heads in a great game.
In the end, it was the Knights who prevailed, thanks to a layup and key free throws from Kenidee Wolery in the final minute, as the Knights held off the T-Birds 48-43 inside the HHS gymnasium.
But as well as North Star played, the game was a fight from start to finish. HLP erased an early double-digit North Star lead and trailed just 37-32 after three quarters. Things got even closer in the fourth, as Mulleah Stiffarm sparked a 6-0 HLP run with a 3-pointer, and eventually, the T-Birds pulled even at 39-39. North Star responded and was ahead 44-40 with 2:40 to go, but triples by Rayleigh Kirkaldie and Stiffarm would keep the T-Birds in it in the closing minutes, before Wolery made a steal and a layup, and sank to huge free throws to seal the win for the Knights.
Still, it was an impressive performance by the T-Birds (6-13), who won five games in district play this season, and got a huge 19 points and five three's from Stiffarm.
"They (Knights) beat us by 30 the first time we played them, and then 12 the second time," HLP head coach Cory Morgan said. "So I think today we showed a lot of progress. We didn't get the win, and the girls are disappointed, but, we gave them everything we had, and we were right there at the end, and that shows how much we've grown as a team."
HLP did do plenty of growing, but North Star was just too tough. The Knights got back-to-back threes from Paij Peterson and Olivia King as part of a 12-0 run to lead 19-13 after the first quarter. In the second, Shayla Borlaug and Jade Wendland scored inside to help North Star take a 32-25 lead into halftime, setting up the exciting second half that ultimately pushed the Knights into tonight's semifinal and a shot at top-ranked Box Elder.
"We just take it game by game," Peterson said. "This team has been awesome this year. It's such a fun team to be a part of."
Borlaug would lead the Knights (12-7) with 19 points, while Wendland added 11 and Wolery had 11 boards. The Knights also shot 36 percent from the field and their defense forced HLP into 35 turnovers, which was too much for the upstart T-Birds to overcome.
And yet HLP, which also got 14 points from Kirkaldie, wasn't going to let the loss discourage them heading into this morning's loser-out game against Big Sandy.
"These girls work very hard, they've put in a lot of time together, and they're still a young team," Morgan said. "And our goals haven't changed. We're taking it game-by-game, quarter-by-quarter. So we'll come back tomorrow and try again against Big Sandy. The goal is still to get to Saturday to Great Falls, and we can still accomplish those goals."
North Star meanwhile, will take a third shot at the Bears tonight. The semifinal tips off at 7 inside the HHS gymnasium with the winner advancing to Friday night's championship game. The top three teams from the 9C move on to the Northern C next week in Great Falls.
North Star 48, Hays-Lodge Pole 43
North Star 19 13 5 11 - 48
Hays-Lodge Pole 13 12 7 11 - 43
HLP - Tahtianna Morgan 2, Kassi Perez 2, Latasha Kirkaldie 4, Rayleigh Kirkaldie 14, Jaedyn Chandler 2, Mulleah Stiffarm 19. Totals: 11-48 14-27.
North Star - Jade Wendland 11, Kenidee Wolery 5, Paij Peterson 6, Olivia King 5, Shayla Borlaug 19, Kaytlyn Domire 2. Totals: 18-56, 9-20.
3-pointers: Wendland 1, Peterson 1, King 1, R. Kirkaldie 2, Stiffarm 5. Fouls: North Star 17, HLP 18. Fouled out: None.