By Bruce Sayler
The floor seemed to shrink every time N’Dea Flye and Kloie Thatcher had the ball, particularly in the second half.
The guard play of the Rocky Mountain College Bears was too fast and deadly for Montana Tech to fill any expectations of winning Thursday night. Rocky Mountain won by a 71-48 margin the Frontier Conference college women’s basketball game. The Bears showed why they have achieved their 15th ranking in the most recent NAIA poll and possibly presented evidence for a higher rung. (Stats)
“They are a good team and they’re very guard-heavy,” Carly Sanon, head coach of the Orediggers, said in her Montana Tech HPER office after the game. “They scored 32 points as their leading scorers.”
Flye, the Butler drop-down transfer, was held to four first-half points by a fresher Montana Tech defense before she wound up 21 for the game. Backcourt-mate Kloie Thatcher, the former Butte Central standout, finished with 11 points, three assists and four steals. The 5-foot-8 Flye hustled up nine rebounds.
“We shot the ball all right, I thought,” Sanon said. “But, our turnovers hurt us. They were missed opportunities and didn’t get us as many shots. We have to take care of the ball.”
Rocky Mountain’s frenetic pace pushed the Orediggers into 20 turnovers and the Bears capitalized on their opportunities.
It took two minutes for either team to score and the Bears broke onto the board first with a Flye layup. They built a small early lead before Montana Tech caught up at 7-all on a short jumper by Brooke Heggie. Rocky Mountain took retook the lead when Gracee Lekvold nailed a 3-point shot with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter and the Bears were in front the rest of the way.
The shooting of Mollie Peoples kept the Orediggers in the game in the first half and she wound up the contest with 14 a team-high 14 points, including her 4-for-4 performance from deep. Three of the treys were netted before halftime.
Flye and Thatcher spurred a surge that saw Rocky Mountain take a 19-9 command. However, Montana Tech rallied back to within 23-21 when Peoples canned one of her 3-pointers, this one off a pass from Ally Cleverly.
Flye made a free throw and then Thatcher shot in a 3-pointer and the Bears were widening the gap again, to 27-21. Their lead at halftime was 31-24.
“Mollie hit some 3s to get us started tonight,” Sanon said. “We got back in the game, then had three straight turnovers at the start of the fourth quarter.”
A minute and a half into the second half, Montana Tech trailed only 31-30 after Dani Urick sank two foul shots and Tavia Rooney and Brooke Heggie each tallied a basket, Heggie’s on a rebound.
The Bears kicked their accelerator, tightened their defense and Rocky Mountain outscored the Orediggers 13-4 over the next four-plus minutes to pump the Bears’ lead up 46-34 with 3:06 to go in the third quarter. Flye, Thatcher and Dominique Stephens all scored in the burst.
The quarter ended with Rocky Mountain ahead, 48-36. The Bears and Montana Tech matched points until the turnover bug bit the Orediggers. A 19-2 Rocky Mountain run resulted with Flye seeming in the middle of all of it – scoring, stealing, dishing or rebounding.
“We’d go on a run, but Flye is a great player,” Sanon said. “They got the ball a lot to her in the second half. She scored 17 points over the last two quartrers and took over the game. She’s a good playmaker.”
The two comebacks from 10 points down to within a basket or free throw of catching Rocky Mountain would’ve seemed to have worn the Orediggers. Sanon, though, didn’t seem to buy into the theory.
“We just turned it over,” she said.
Heggie had 10 points to back Peoples in the Montana Tech scoring totals, and Rooney grabbed 14 rebounds to go with eight points. Thirteen of her boards came on the defensive end. Urich also had eight points, Soda Rice scored four while Cleverly finished with three and Megan Delaney with one. McKayla Kloker, Jaden Comings, Aubrie Rademacher and Celestina Faletoi also played. The Orediggers will take records of 11-11 overall and 2-5 in conference into a Saturday 2 p.m. game against Carroll in the HPER Complex.
Rocky Mountain, now 17-2 and 6-1 on the ledgers, got 10 points and nine rebounds from Shauna Bribiescas to go with the Flye and Thatcher totals in the win.