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Fort Benton girls go back-to-back at 9C

 

February 15, 2019

There is something special about the Havre High gymnasium for the Fort Benton Longhorns, especially when they play the Box Elder Bears there.

And for the third straight year, as well as the fourth time in five years, the Fort Benton girls played Box Elder for the District 9C championship Friday night in Havre and for the second straight season, Fort Benton handed the Bears their first loss while claiming the district title. Last year, it came on a buzzer beater by Aspen Giese.

This time around, there wasn't nearly as much drama and when Maci Molinario put home a layup with just a few seconds remaining, it wrapped up a 56-48 win for the Longhorns, who led wire-to-wire on their way to back-to-back 9C championships.

"This is the most proud I have ever been of a team," Fort Benton head coach Cassie Pimperton said. "The second half wasn't pretty by any means but they gutted it out and Cassie Nack, she was big all game. She guarded their best player and locked her down. She nailed some key free throws. I am just proud of them."

Nack was essential down the stretch and she was also key in defending both Joelnell Momberg and Lily Gopher, Box Elder's two All-State stars and in that battle, you'd have to give the edge to Nack, who also added eight points in the fourth quarter, including four clutch free throws late.

"I really like stepping up to a challenge," Nack said. "I just try to come out and play and relax. It was our last game in the tournament, so you just have to put it all out there."

Early on, the Longhorns did just that and against the vaunted Box Elder press, the Longhorns flourished, scoring the first six points of the game. The hot start continued and later in the first quarter following 3-pointers by Aspen Giese and McKenzie Clark, Fort Benton raced out to a 12-4 lead.

"We needed to get fired up and come out rolling with shots," Clark said. "And we started making some and that just got us fired up and excited for each other. We prepared for their press and we just executed."

Leah Gannon and Nack both added buckets in the first quarter as the Longhorns built a 21-6 lead that would become 21-9 at the end of the opening stanza after a 3-pointer in the closing seconds by Sarah Parisian of Box Elder. But in the second, McKenzie Clark added two points at the 6:46 mark and soon after, her sister, Megan Clark drilled a three from the corner, putting Fort Benton in front 26-9.

Kyla Momberg responded with a trey of her own on the other end, but then McKenzie Clark hit from deep for the second time in the first half, which helped Fort Benton go into the locker room leading 34-16 over the No. 1 team in the state.

Down by 18 points, Box Elder senior Maddie Wolf Chief led the charge and after a steal and score, Box Elder was down just 14 at 38-24. The Bears closed a sluggish third quarter for both teams on a 7-2 run, getting the lead down to single digits, 42-33 after three.

Wolf Chief, who sparked the run in the third, really got things going in the fourth with a make from the beyond the arc, which got Box Elder within six points with 7:13 remaining. Needing an offensive presence and minus Aspen Giese, an All-Stater who left the game due to injury, Fort Benton turned to Nack, who hit two jumpers in a couple minutes to push the lead back to 10.

Parisian cut it to five with a 3-pointer and another hoop by the Bears got it down to as little as three points with 1:20 remaining in the game but four free throws late by Nack and a bunch of stops defensively helped Fort Benton salt away its second straight district championship.

"It feels great," Leah Gannon said. "Especially to do it in my senior year."

While Box Elder couldn't quite pull off the comeback in the 9C championship, Turner kept its season alive with by rallying from eight points down to knock off North Star 45-34 Friday, punching their ticket back to the Northern C Divisional tournament, where the Tornadoes will join Fort Benton and Box Elder.

"It feels great to be going back to divisionals," Turner senior Rylee Conlan said. "We are very excited."

Without Conlan, Turner likely wouldn't be going back to divisionals. Sarah Billmayer started the Turner comeback with three points to make it 27-22 after the Tornadoes fell behind by as many as eight. Yet, a 3-pointer by Conlan, followed by a score inside by Shyan Krass tied the score at 27-27. Then, in the closing seconds of the third quarter, Conlan buried a trey, giving the Tornadoes a 30-27 edge going into the fourth after an 11-0 run.

"I thought that my team really needed something," Conlan said. "So I thought if I could make some shots, we could turn things around."

Conlan hit another long jumper in the fourth quarter and the Tornadoes limited the Knights to just seven points in the final stanza. Over the last 12 minutes of the game, Turner outscored the Knights 26-7.

Billmayer and Conlan both had 12 points each in the win for Turner. Kenidee Wolery led the Knights with 11. North Star also got 10 from Jade Wendland in a losing effort.

Fort Benton, Box Elder and Turner will all head to Great Falls for the Northern C Divisional tournament which starts Wednesday. For full coverage of the 9C tournament, see Monday's edition of the Havre Daily News.

 

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