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George Ferguson Column: Wildcats making history with every win

From the Fringe....

 

February 26, 2019

Colin Thompson

Taya Trottier and the Harlem Wildcats won their first Northern B girls championship Saturday night in Malta. One night before, the Wildcats clinched their first-ever trip to the state tournament, which runs March 6-8 in Belgrade.

In the 2018 Northern B Divisional girls basketball tournament, the Harlem Wildcats went in with high hopes, only to be left heartbroken after coming up short on qualifying for the Class B state tournament.

Fast forward one year and hopes were again high going into the 2019 Northern B. After all, Harlem had another great regular season, punctuated by being the only team to beat Wolf Point this winter. So, not only was Harlem going into last week’s divisional tourney in Malta feeling confident, the Wildcats were more than ready to make another big leap forward.

And that’s exactly how it played out in Malta. Harlem cruised to the championship game of the Northern B, setting up a fourth meeting with arch rival Wolf Point Saturday night. The Wolves had just beaten Harlem in the District 2B tourney championship game seven days earlier, but Saturday night, it was Harlem’s turn.

With a 46-43 win over the Wolves in the championship game, Harlem capped its second straight historic night. The victory wasn’t just a win over the top-ranked Wolves, it was also Harlem’s first divisional championship in girls basketball — ever.

Yes, it may be hard to believe given how long they’ve been playing basketball in Harlem, but Saturday night’s win was indeed the first time the Harlem girls have hoisted a championship trophy this late in the season.

The Wildcats did it on the strength of a 28-point performance from junior star L’Tia Lawrence, who out-played Wolf Point standout Imani Bighorn, who scored 24 points. But the Wildcats also did it with defense. Wolf Point is a dangerous offensive team, loaded with talent, but the Wildcats held the Wolves to just 33 percent shooting on the night, and in the end, it was a great effort to give the Wildcats the championship.

Of course, it was a history-making weekend from the start for Harlem.

Thursday, the Wildcats made it to just their third-ever Northern B semifinal with an easy win over Choteau. Then came a night no Harlem player or fan will ever forget.

For decades, Harlem has had to take a backseat to the Malta M-Ettes, who have long dominated the District 2B. But, Friday night, in Malta’s own gymnasium, the Wildcats made school history with a 45-34 win over the M-Ettes. No, it wasn’t historic that Harlem beat Malta, the Wildcats have been doing a lot of that lately. The win was historic because it clinched Harlem’s first-ever berth in the Class B state tournament.

Yes, that’s right, the Harlem girls have never been to the state tournament, so, it was fitting that the win that sent them to state was against a team that has been so great and so dominant for so long and a rival to boot.

But as exciting as Friday night was for the Wildcats, it’s even more impressive that they went on and beat Wolf Point Saturday night. Locked into the state tournament, it would have been easy for Harlem to let down against the Wolves. It would have been easy for the Wildcats to be distracted going into the championship game.

That however, isn’t what happened. The story continued Saturday night as Harlem claimed the Northern B title, and in doing so, kept it on the Hi-Line for the second straight season. Rocky Boy won its first Northern B title last year.

Yes, Saturday night’s championship is going to be something Harlem won’t ever forget. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and it speaks to just how talented this Harlem team is, with Lawrence, Skylee Dirden, Taya Trottier, Taeshon Schaeffer and so many others.

Yet, Malta is also just the start for Harlem.

With two wins over Wolf Point this season, and now going into state as the top seed from Northern B, Harlem has set itself up for even more history. And there’s a little bit of irony here too.

In 2002, the Harlem and Wolf Point boys played five times, the last of which came in the state championship game, a game won by Harlem. Could we be seeing that type of history again? Time will tell, and we’ll know for sure in two weeks in Belgrade.

But for now, Harlem deserves to enjoy this moment. It’s something the Harlem girls basketball program has been waiting for, hoping for, for a really long time.

So congrats to the Wildcats, their players and coaches on an incredible Northern B championship. And for the first time in school history, let’s be the first to say, good luck at state Wildcats!

Harlem 46, Wolf Point, 43, 1st

Wolf Point 11 11 12 9 - 43

Harlem 9 15 12 10 - 46

Harlem - Skylee Dirden 5, L'Tia Lawrence 28, Aria Owens 1, Melony Fetter 3, Taeshon Schaeffer 6, Taya Trottier 3.

Wolf Point - Alyssa Archdale 2, Mya Fourstar 12, Iamani Bighorn 24, Abby Juve 5.

Harlem 45, Malta 34, SF

Harlem 4 15 13 13 - 45

Malta 4 9 11 10 - 34

Malta: Erica Smith 12, Kloie Marks 9, Carly Garfield 10, Justine Lamb 2, Sidney Meeks 1.

Harlem: Kristyn Kittson 2, Skylee Dirden 13, Taeshon Scheaffer 1, Taya Trottier 9, L'Tia Lawrence 20.

Harlem 51, Choteau 27

Choteau 3 7 8 9 – 27

Harlem 21 10 12 8 – 51

Choteau – Anna Jamison 4, Whitney Durocher 11, Lila Bradley 5, Nicole Krone 7.

Harlem – Kristyn Kittson 3, Mackenzie Doney 1, Skylee Dirden 15, Melony Fetter 5, L'Tia Lawrence 13, Taya Trottier 6, Taeshon Scheaffer 3, Sierra Jones 2, Aira Owens 3.

 

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