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Gliding to state

Lady Pirates punch ticket to the big dance

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KALISPELL — Just one bucket short, just one stop away, just a couple of free throws from getting over the hump, the Polson Lady Pirates came oh-so-close to a divisional championship last Saturday night.

Polson had the Wildkats right where they wanted them, with both posts fouled out of the game and a chance to take the lead in the final seconds. It was the kind of scenario little girls practice in school yards and driveways all across Montana. 

But such is the drama of post-season basketball, where one team has to lose. Everyone expected Columbia Falls and Polson to be in the championship. Unfortunately, it was the Lady Pirates who came up just two points shy.

After securing a 38-31 semifinal victory over Libby on Thursday, Polson earned a spot in Saturday championship against Columbia Falls and the twin-tower DeWit sisters. Polson's head coach, Randy Kelley, said the plan was to put a lot of defensive pressure on both Kayla and Kelsey DeWit, using Sierra Pete and Nicole Davey, with post Riley Kenney teaming up against the 6'2" and 6'1" posts. 

The plan was working well for the first 1:05 of the game. But then Polson had to readjust when Pete fell after a foul on a layup miss. When she came down, her knee buckled and she went to the floor with what appears to be a torn ACL.

"It's not good to see," coach Kelley said solemnly. "She brings so much defensively and offensively. She's such a slasher. I was really scratching my head (trying to imagine how to adjust), but our girls on the bench came up big."

Kelley brought in Kayla Duford off the bench, who calmly sank two free throws, then drilled a three-pointer five minutes later to give Polson a 9-5 lead. She hit another jumper with 28 seconds remaining in the first to give her team a solid 13-5 lead to close out the quarter.

"Kayla hit some big shots. Kendyall (Rochin) gave us some good minutes and I brought Heidi in to provide some rest and she did a good job, too," Kelley said of his bench. "Kayla hit some big shots for us after Sierra went out and some of the ones she missed were in and out. She's definitely capable of shooting well. We see it in practice all the time."

The Wildkats weathered the early Polson storm and rebounded with a 15-8 run in the second quarter to trail 21-20 at the half. The intensity was high and the officiating was close, especially on traveling calls. Polson's Breanne Kelley was called on four traveling calls in the first half alone and all of them came on her initial move driving to the basket. 

Head coach and Breanne's father, Randy, was working the officials about the traveling calls "a bit too much," according to the coach, and picked up a technical foul with 32 seconds remaining in the half. 

But both teams played good interior defense and frustrated each other's offense. 

Then, after an 11-11 third quarter, it began to look like whoever has the ball last would win the game ... and whoever kept their full team on the floor. 

Post Riley Kenney continued to battle in the paint on both ends of the floor. She finished the night with three field goals and 6-for-9 shooting at the free throw line for 12 points and six rebounds.

"I give a lot of credit to Riley," coach Kelley emphasized. "She had to step in and cover on man (defense) against both the DeWits. They do such a good job with the high-low posts feeding each other. But we tried to pressure them and we did a good job of getting some good looks on offense. It just came down to a few missed shots."

Polson actually fell behind by six (37-43) before Rochin hit a big jumper with 3:32 left in the game to start off a Lady Pirate run down the stretch. Then Kenney made a bank-shot and drove inside to draw a fourth foul on Kelsey DeWit, making both free throws to pull Polson within two (43-45) with 1:56 to go. Another free throw by Kenney made it 44-45 at 1:23, but even better she also drew the fifth foul on Kayla DeWit. 

Then Kelley made a huge steal with 49 seconds remaining in the game, dashed down the floor and laid it in to put Polson up 46-45. 

On the next possession, Kenney fouled Kelsey DeWit on an inside pass to the Wildkat, who made both her free throws in a double-bonus to give C. Falls the 47-46 lead with 47 seconds to go. 

After a Polson timeout, Davey was hacked in the paint by Kelsey DeWit, who fouled out with 17 seconds to go. But, with all the pressure in the world on her shoulders, Davey missed both free throws.

After Columbia Falls missed the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds to go, Kelley drove the baseline twice, once with seven seconds remaining and again right before the buzzer. But Columbia Falls' defense was impenetrable and the Wildkats escaped with the 48-46 championship win. 

The loss was a stinger, but Polson did earn a spot at state next week in Hamilton, March 11-13. The Lady Pirates will open the tournament at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday against Sidney, the number one team from the Eastern A division.

The extra week lets Polson heal up a bit and maybe let go of the coulda-beens from divisionals. Coach Kelley would like his team to have a short enough memory to get back after it with a vengeance at state.

"People can remember my tech and Nicole missing some free throws, but there were some other possessions that weren't great for us. We're still learning — me and the girls — that each possession counts," Kelley said. "I thought we did a real good job of (attacking the basket), but we were probably one possession short. I would have liked to have gone to overtime, especially with the DeWit girls out. But, I thought the girls played great, especially being undersized. The girls really got after it."

What Kelley really liked was the determination his played showed in this third outing against the larger Columbia Falls squad.

"The girls kept coming back. In our first two games I thought we were a little timid. But this time we played a lot larger," Kelley noted.

They also shook off the loss of Pete, one of their best defenders and a spark on the offense.

"All the girls came out and had a very important role after Sierra went down. But they all played well together," the coach said. "I told them before the game that anytime we get a chance to take it at (the DeWit girls), we should take it at them. And I was proud that our girls weren't afraid to do that."

The team also adjusted well in a box-and-one on Friday to shut down Libby post Jackie Mee. Pete was the "one" and held Mee to just two first half points. But the whole Polson defense only allowed Libby six points in the first half, setting up a 38-32 dogfight of a win, despite some rough scoring.

"Sierra did a great job. She really limited the touches Jackie got. But they battled back," Kelley said. "We came out and played with more energy, offensively and defensively. We've been getting out to slow starts, but our girls got out after it. We got some great looks off some good work on offense."

It helped that Polson put up 14 points in the first quarter and Kelley hit three treys in the third quarter. Then, Kenney put up a bucket in the fourth to go with her four free throws and Kelley contributed four more to secure the 38-32 win.

Kelley finished with a game-high 15 points, while Kenney and Pete scored eight points apiece.

 "In the second quarter we had a lull (four points), but they had an even bigger lull," Kelley said. "The girls were patient, but we had a bit of trouble attacking the hoop. Again, Sierra did a great job and we knew that was the key to take Jackie out of her rhythm. She really likes to catch and shoot and we did well against her."

Kelley also credited Davey for a good job rebounding and on the defensive end of the floor.

"And Bre (Kelley) hit some big threes in the third quarter ... she hit some big shots for us that night."

Libby won the consolation championship and Polson had already beaten the Lady Loggers, there was no challenge game.

The Lady Pirates will compete at the Class A state championship tournament next weekend in Hamilton. They'll face the number one team from the East, Sidney, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 11. The Sidney Eagles (18-2) are making their first trip to state in seven years after beating Billings Central 42-31 in the Eastern A championship in Billings last Saturday.

Sidney is led by 6'2" Jordan Sullivan, who will play for the Lady Griz next year. 

"Take a Jackie Mee and Kayla Dewit and put them together with the best ball-handler in the conference. That's Jordan Sullivan. She does it all," Kelley said. "We've got our hands full, but that's the great thing about state ... it's about who is hot. We've got to take one possession at a time and make the most out of it."

And he thinks his team will be ready to get after it.

"Sidney is a lot like (Columbia Falls) ... They are very physical," coach Kelley said. "But our girls won't back down, even if they are undersized."

Northwestern A Divisional Tournament
Feb. 25-27, 2010

Polson 38, Libby 32
Libby 4 2 14 12–32
Polson 14 4 9 11–38

LIBBY - LaRona Luscher 9, Alysha Martin 2, Jaime Gilden 7, Logan Best  1, Jackie Mee 10, Kim Tangen 3.
POLSON - Kendyall Rochin 2, Mariah Hamel 3, Sierra Pete 8, Breanne Kelley 15, Riley Kenney 8, Nicole Davey 2. 

Columbia Falls 48, Polson 46
Polson 13 8 11 14–46
C. Falls 5 15 11 17–48

POLSON - Mariah Hamel 2, Breanne Kelley 10, Riley Kenney 12, Nicole Davey 11, Kendyall Rochin 2, Kayla Duford 9.
C. FALLS - Danielle Gilley 7, Kayla DeWit 11, Brooke Cady 1, Shay Grilley 7, Kelsey DeWit 20, Kayla Stratton 2.

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