For the Custer County District High School Cowgirl basketball team, they had high hopes going to the State A Tournament for the first time since 2009. But those hopes of bringing home a trophy were dashed on Saturday morning when the Cowgirls were eliminated by Eastern A foe Laurel in loser-out action.
The Cowgirls ended the season 13-11.
“This is such a unique team,” Cowgirls second-year Head Coach Jacqui Engstrom said. “It’s rare to find 13 young ladies that are not only great athletes, but great students who all get along, enjoy each other and play so well together.”
Havre won the Class A state title, beating Hamilton 52-43 in the state championship game. Columbia Falls took home the consolation title with a 54-52 overtime win over Laurel.
The Cowgirls began the tournament with a tough 46-42 loss to Hamilton on Thursday night. With that loss, the Cowgirls were sent into loser-out action on Friday against Belgrade.
The Cowgirls came-from-behind to eliminate the Panthers 59-46.
“After the loss to Hamilton, we bounced back and beat Belgrade which tells you a lot about this group of girls,” Engstrom said. “They knew after the first night that a goal we set four months ago was no longer a realistic accomplishment for us. But instead of calling it quits, they regrouped and refocused and came out with more fight.”
After having one of their better defensive efforts of the season in the first round against Hamilton, they came out slow on the defensive end to start against Belgrade.
The Lady Panthers came out strong and led 15-12 after the first quarter and 27-25 at halftime. The Cowgirls didn’t get much going offensively, shooting just 24 percent from the field. They were 15 of 19 from the line, keeping them in the game.
But the Cowgirls made their halftime adjustments and came out firing to start the third. The Cowgirls opened the second half on an 11-2 run to take the lead. They would cool off later in the quarter, but took a 40-37 lead into the fourth quarter.
Belgrade hung around in the fourth, keeping it a three-point game with six minutes to play and then cut it to two, 48-46, with 2:34 to play.
But the Cowgirls ended the game on a 9-0 run, going 9-12 from the line in the final two minutes to ice the game.
Beth Sutter had a big fourth quarter for the Cowgirls, scoring 10 of her 19 points in the final quarter. Ashlie Larson had 23 points, going 10-11 at the line.
With that win over Belgrade, the Cowgirls advanced to Saturday, facing Laurel.
In the semifinals, Laurel was completely shut down by Havre, losing 41-28. That set up the all-Eastern A clash in the loser-out game.
Having faced Laurel three times already this season, all three Laurel wins, the Cowgirls looked to get off to a fast start.
But the opposite happened, and the Cowgirls were never able to recover.
Laurel opened the game on a 12-1 run and led 14-4 after the first quarter.
The Cowgirls trailed 22-11 at halftime, going 4-16 from the field in the first half. Laurel wasn’t much better, shooting 5-20 from the field. But the Lady Locomotives were 11-13 at the free throw line.
In the second half, the Cowgirls cut the score to as few as nine, but were never able to get their offense going.
For the game, the Cowgirls shot just 18 percent from the field (9-51), including 3-20 from three-point range. They were also just 4-13 from the line.
Laurel held a decisive 44-28 edge in rebounds and were 26-34 from the line.
Sutter ended her career with 11 points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Ashlie Larson and Jenna Swope each added five points.
“We did a pretty good job defensively, but couldn’t find any rhythm offensively,” Engstrom said. “It’s hard to go out the way we did, but the girls had such an outstanding season and came so far that there’s just not anything at all I can be disappointed about.”
The Cowgirls will say goodbye to three seniors, Sutter, Tori Swope and Shaylee Singleton.
“It’s going to be tough to let go of the three seniors,” Engstrom said. “They brought so much to the game from great leadership to work ethic to attitude, you name it and they really have it all. Cowgirl basketball will never forget them and I will definitely never forget them.”
While the Cowgirls do lose the three seniors, they will return six players that saw significant time on the varsity this season, led by Larson. Larson became the fourth sophomore in school history to lead the Cowgirls in scoring, joining Robin Hutton (11.3 points in 1973), Dawn Sievers (11.7, 1988) and Kalli Durham (17.0, 2008). Larson is just the sixth Cowgirl in school history to average over 10 points per game as a sophomore.
The Cowgirls will also benefit greatly from the return of Alecia Chamberlin. She was one of the teams leading scorers last year as a sophomore, but missed her entire junior season when she suffered a torn ACL last summer. By the state tournament, she was allowed to practice and go through drills, but was unable to participate in contact drills.
“We are so excited about where the program is heading,” Engstrom said. “We have some tremendously talented young girls to work with this summer and we are ready to hit the gym and get working.”
Havre 52, Hamilton 43
The Lady Blue Ponies continued their surprising surge at the State A Tournament with a 52-43 win over Hamilton in the state championship game.
Havre entered the postseason with a 12-6 record, but then won the Central A Tournament to qualify for state. In the first round at state, Havre topped Frenchtown 60-41 and then knocked off Eastern A champion Laurel 41-28 in the semifinals.
In the championship game, Havre entered the fourth with a 30-22 lead. But then the teams exploded to combine for 43 points in the fourth quarter.
Brandy Lembourne had 16 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter to lead Havre. Morgan Mazurkiewicz added nine points.
Taylor Goligoski and Jaylee Albert each had 13 points to lead Hamilton, who finished the season 19-4.
Columbia Falls 54, Laurel 52 (OT)
In what many expected to be the state championship game matchup, Columbia Falls edged Laurel in overtime, 54-52.
The teams entered overtime tied at 46 and it looked as if Laurel was going to send the game into double overtime when Allie McGrath drilled a three pointer in the final seconds.
But Haley Belgarde was fouled on a layup with less than a second on the clock and nailed both free throws to give the Lady Wildkats the win.
Belgarde led Columbia Falls with 20 points and Winter Kemppainen added 12.
Abbie Lohoff had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Laurel. McGrath finished with 13 points.
Columbia Falls finished the season 22-2, Laurel was 18-6.
Miles City 59, Belgrade 46
Miles City 12 13 15 19 - 59
Belgrade 15 12 10 9 - 46
Miles City (13-10)- Tori Swope 2, Makena Ellingson 4, Beth Sutter 19, Ashlie Larson 23, Shaylee Singleton 3, Halie Warren 1, Kadie Heinle 3, Amy Blaquiere 4.
Belgrade (9-15)- Sadie Reddick 4, Alexis Clingingsmith 12, Madison Page 5, Erin Singleton 15, Tanna Holliday 6, Shaylee Ragar 2, Jamie Woolman 2.
Laurel 54, Miles City 25
Miles City 4 7 9 5 - 25
Laurel 14 8 12 20 - 54
Miles City (13-11)- Beth Sutter 11, Ashlie Larson 5, Halie Warren 2, Jenna Swope 5, Amy Blaquiere 2.
Laurel (18-6)- Lexi Lewis 3, Raquel Jiminez 3, Allie McGrath 13, Taylor Ludwig 5, Dakota Boehler 2, Dalayna Christenson 6, McKenna Goettlich2, Hailey Spitzer 2, Paige Hodges 3, Abbie Lohof 15.