Thu, 03/09/2017 - 10:48am admin
Lady Bulldogs battle to second at Class A state tournament in Butte
By Andrew Turck, Big Horn County News
Hardin’s girls basketball team may have taken second in their bid for the Class A state championship, but they didn’t go down without a fight.
In their final match, they shot ahead of Columbia Falls’ Lady Wildkats 8-0 near the first two minutes and 30 seconds. Bulldog supporters, filling more than half of the Butte Civic Center in Hardin High School’s black and orange colors, cheered loud enough the vibration could be felt through the floor.
Calling a timeout and surrounded by joyful sounds from the Hardin opposition, Columbia Falls Head Coach Cary Finburg didn’t appear particularly troubled. Quoted in the Missoulian, Finburg spoke to his team on the subject of overcoming adversity – a skill the Lady Bulldogs had ironically employed during Friday night’s semifinal game against Belgrade’s Lady Panthers.
The stress of being in the semifinal game with Belgrade, according to Head Coach Cindy Farmer, had resulted in her team playing “tighter” than usual and falling behind by 11 points in the second half. They needed to loosen up.
The cheering crowd, she said, helped spur them forward.
“It was amazing, the support we had from our crowd,” she said. “They definitely had an effect, in that Belgrade game especially. They were great the whole tournament.”
Shooting past the Panthers’ second-quarter lead, the Ladies overran their opposition and ended on a 14-point victory, 71-57. Post Aubrey Meiwald led the Ladies in shots with 17, followed by guard/forward Madisan Chavez with 14 and post Arena Plenty with 11.
Five minutes into Saturday’s game, Columbia Falls likewise pulled ahead of Hardin 9-8. The Ladies and Wildkats went back and forth with layups, with the appropriate crowds cheering for each shot. Slowly, however, Columbia Falls was wearing Hardin down.
The Ladies surpassed the Wildkats again 13-11 with 2:18 to go in the first period. Once the Wildkats pulled ahead within a minute, however, they stayed in the lead for the remainder of the game.
Columbia Falls’ offensive strategy involved prying open Hardin’s defense by directing opposing players toward passes from one Wildkat to the next. The Ladies followed the ball using the full-court press that had worked when they defeated the Havre Blue Ponies for the Eastern A championship the week before, but the Wildkats were more effective at using the Bulldog defense in their favor. Openings would appear before the Ladies could cover them and Wildkat players would take the shot. Columbia Falls’ field goal percentage was 49 percent, compared to Hardin’s 39 percent.
“They started getting some easy baskets first, breaking our press,” Farmer said. “We were not in position sometimes, so they got some easy baskets there.
“They’re very disciplined in their half-court offense. When they did get an 11 or 12-point lead, of course, they wanted to just move the ball and take time off the clock.”
Despite the Ladies’ best efforts – and a 50 percent 3-point shot average to the Wildkats’ 31 percent – the Ladies were unable to keep up with their opponents and ultimately lost 50-73. Chavez scored the most baskets – and tied Columbia Falls’ top shooter – with 22 points. She was followed by Meiwald with 10 and guard Sharmayne Hardy with 7.
Earning second place in state represents a significant improvement for the Ladies when compared to their 2015-16 season, when they were knocked out of divisionals in three games.
“I thought the girls had an outstanding season,” Farmer said. “Their record – only losing two games, they were 22 and 2 – is the best record in the history of the girls basketball program.”
She is proud of the girls, she continued, calling them “not just athletes, but student athletes” with a sense of strong character, determination and teamwork.
Girls set to return next season, she said, have seen what it’s like to “play a big game at state” and know to prepare themselves accordingly.