By Bruce Sayler
This part of the Frontier Conference college women’s basketball marathon boiled down to the sprints.
A fast start, exhausting attack and relentless defense ignited Montana Tech’s 78-54 win over Carroll on Tuesday night in the HPER Complex as a starter to the playoffs. The postseason will resume Friday with fourth-seeded Montana Tech going to Lewiston, Idaho, to challenge top-seeded Lewis-Clark State in the semifinals. Stats
The other semifinal will see third-seeded Montana Western — a 76-47 winner over Rocky Mountain Tuesday — playing at second-seeded Montana State-Northern in Havre the same night. The winners will clash on Monday for the conference playoffs championship on the homecourt of the highest remaining seed.
So, Montana Tech, being the lowest seed remaining in play, will not play again at home. The Orediggers made the most of the opportunity on Tuesday.
“My favorite two times of the year are rivalry week and tournament time,” Montana Tech head coach Carly Sanon said, grinning in the hallway outside her team’s locker room. “It’s even better to have them both at the same time and beating your rival in it.”
The Orediggers went for a quick knockout. They shot 84 percent from the field in the first quarter while playing at a blistering pace that set them up with a 27-13 lead heading into the second frame. Martha Dembek shot in 11 points in the frame and the Montana Tech defense forced the Saints into eight first-quarter turnovers.
As a result, Carroll never led. Senior Rachel Farris tallied two points from close-in for the first of the game, and Dembek followed with a drive she capped with a fade from underneath. Montana Tech had a 4-0 edge less than a minute into the game.
Bailey Pasta gunned in a 3-point basket for the Saints to tighten the difference before the Orediggers answered with a looping bucket from under the hoop following a steal by Hattie Thatcher, a basket by Dembek after another Thatcher theft, and a steal-and-layup combo by Kourtney Coverdell. The rush made the Montana Tech advantage 10-4.
“The start was huge,” Sanon said. “We got up-and-down the court, and, on defense, we got four steals and pressured the ball (in the first quarter)”.
“When we move the ball and everybody touches the ball, we’re hard to defend.”
Dembek and Thatcher, two seniors obviously not ready to be done playing, led the assault and the pressure. Thatcher tried to keep the opponent’s possessions in front of the key, and Dembek tried to keep the Saints from rebounds.
Offensively, they both broke 20 points — Dembek with 22 and Thatcher with 21. Butte High graduate Thatcher, the all-time Montana Tech assists leader, dealt seven more.
“The rivalry had a lot to do with it,” she said about her team’s performance. “We shot so well, the whole game, really. I think that first quarter was probably the best we ever played of basketball.”
“We were really loose and relaxed during warmups.”
Carroll applied the brakes to the Orediggers in the second quarter and scrapped back into the contest. A 38-18 Montana Tech cushion melted into a 43-35 margin by the time halftime arrived.
Hannah Dean, a 6-foot-1 post from Gardiner who Sanon had game-planned against, adjusted and broke loose. She notched six points and grabbed several rebounds in the second frame. Help came from 6-1 running mate Michaela Dowdy, who came off the bench to help on the inside, and another sub, Mikaela Olson, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as Carroll burned a 12-1 run at the end of the half.
“We got stagnant in the second quarter,” Thatcher said. “When they go to their zone (defense), we get shook up a little bit. When our lead got down to six points (in the third quarter), I was a little nervous.”
Sanon said the Orediggers worked against a Carroll style of zone in practice because the Saints had some success with it in a game last week. Montana Tech defeated Carroll 58-50 on Thursday in the Orediggers’ last game of the regular season.
“It was key to keep their post players out of the paint and off the boards,” Sanon said. “We had to keep them on their heels, offensively, and keep attacking and attacking.”
“Then, we got on our heels a little bit. They kept the ball from getting inside. We can’t catch the ball and hold it and let the zone rotate. We have to keep the ball moving.”
So, getting the ball ahead of the Carroll defenders was the order and Montana Tech executed in the second half.
“Defensively, we changed a couple of rotations from last week,” Sanon said. “We didn’t want their big players leaving the paint.”
The Saints drew to within 43-37 on an 8-footer by Dean for the first points of the second half. After Kourtney Coverdell responded for Montana Tech, Dean drove for another two points. Kaylynn Coverdell hit from 16 feet for the Orediggers. The teams traded hoops again — Cassidy Hashley on a rebound putback for Carroll, and Farris on a drive for Montana Tech. Brittney Johnson broke the rhythm with a 3-pointer for the Saints, closing the gap to five points, 49-44, with 6 minutes to go in the third frame.
Montana Tech regained control of the tempo and kept the ball ahead of the Saints. The Orediggers outscored Carroll 12-4 the rest of the quarter.
“They couldn’t keep up with our transition,” Thatcher said.
The lead gained was efficiently maintained as Montana Tech notched the victory, raising its season record to 16-14.
The loud crowd was appreciated by the Orediggers.
“The guys on the ends of the court had a lot to do with this win,” Thatcher said. “All the football players, all the fans who were here, — they caused so much energy.”
Kourtney Coverdell contributed 11 points to the Montana Tech offense. Kylynn Coverdell scored six, Farris and Monica Landdeck five apiece, Shay Potter three, and Bailey Armbruster and Callee Remsen notched two apiece. Sammy McGree also played.
Carroll wrapped an 18-13 season. Pasta scored 13 points and Dowdy 12 to back Dean’s 18. Hashley collected a game-high 10 rebounds.