Battlin’ Bears turn back Oredigger women

Battlin’ Bears turn back Oredigger women
Rocky Mountain College freshman Kloie Thatcher drives for a hoop in front of Montana Tech's Chelestina Faletoi Friday night at the HPER Complex. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

The game was catch and Montana Tech couldn’t, despite repeated runs. Rocky Mountain took its lead, stayed ahead and defeated the Orediggers 83-75 Friday evening in a Frontier Conference college women’s basketball regular-season finale in the Montana Tech HPER Complex. (Stats)

Butte Central graduate Kloie Thatcher cinched up the Battlin’ Bears victory with 10-for-10 free throw shooting in the last three minutes to finish a 22-point performance.

“We’d get on a run and get (the deficit) down to eight points or so, and then they’d score,” Montana Tech head coach Carly Sanon said. “(Markaela) Francis had a big game for them tonight, but we changed things up at halftime and did a better job on her in the second half.”

Francis, a 6-foot junior from Great Falls, collected 24 points and five rebounds. She had 15 points at halftime.

The Orediggers were coming off a tough game with NAIA eighth-ranked Carroll on Thursday, a 63-52 Montana Tech loss, but showed few early effects. They burned strings with five 3-pointers in their first six field goals while going up by 17-12 on 24th-ranked Rocky Mountain.

Mesa Williams gunned in three of the treys with one each coming from Hailey Crawford and Tjaden Pallister.

A power drive by Celestina Faletoi increased the margin to 19-12. However, the Bears finished the period on a 9-2 run and tied the score at 21-all on a Francis rebound basket at the buzzer.

The Orediggers weren’t discouraged. Faletoi meshed a foul shot and Williams followed with a drive and MOntana Tech owned a 24-21 edge 30 seconds into frame No. 2. After Marissa Van Atta tallied on a turnaround jumper for Rocky Mountain, the Orediggers opened a five-point spread. Dani Urick hit a jumper from just inside the arc, and then Crawford connived a steal and layup. Kaylee Zard defensively smothered Francis in the paint and forced a shot-clock violation by the Bears.

The Orediggers were unable to capitalize on the turnover, though, and Francis wound up scoring on the next possession. Pallister connected on a pullup jumper over a Bears double-team and Montana Tech had a 30-25 advantage 6 minutes, 20 seconds before halftime.

Thatcher, the freshman, ignited her team.

She flipped in a floater to begin a 16-0 Rocky Mountain run that gave the Bears the lead for good. Three-point baskets by Brooke Jones and Alecia Chamberlin highlighted  the Rocky Mountain eruption. Zard ended the string of Bears points by scoring on a drive, then Francis took a feed from Jones and the half closed with Rocky Mountain in control of a 43-32 margin.

“We did better on the offensive boards tonight,” Sanon said. “And, we had big games by Kaylee, Dani and Mesa. But, we put (the Bears) on the foul line 26 times. We have to keep our hands off and make them score over the top of us.

“We were playing back-to-back nights (against nationally ranked teams) and Rocky’s been waiting for us all week. (Thursday) night, we played a tough game and played hard for 40 minutes. We might’ve been a little tired. It’s tough when you go back-to-back.”

Montana Tech cut its deficit to less than 10 points several times in the second half and shrunk it to seven points twice. The first was when Mollie Peoples nailed a 3-pointer for a 68-61 difference with 4:02 left in the game. Rocky Mountain built its lead back to 10 points behind Thatcher’s foul line prowess.

Zard dropped in a charity toss with 29 seconds on the clock to narrow the gap to 77-70. The Orediggers got no closer.

“I felt we played well at times both nights,” Sanon said. “It’s Senior NIght here and we have no seniors, and we’re playing teams with seniors scoring 30-plus points (during games through the season). So, it’s exciting. I’m happy with how the team has come along in these few weeks.

“I feel like the progress has been good and steady. We’ve had great practices. We started off the conference season by losing big to L-C (Lewis-Clark State) and Carroll, and now we’re playing with them.”

Rocky Mountain put five scorers in double figures while putting its season record at 19-10 overall, including 10-7 in the conference, with the win. Van Atta came off the bench to score 13 points in backing the production of Francis and Thatcher. Jones and Chamberlin scored 10 points each.

Zard led Montana Tech with 19 points and nine rebounds. Williams had 15 points and Urick scored 13. Crawford and Peoples tallied eight points each, Pallister seven, Faletoi three and Megan Delaney two. Lana Berg also played.

The Orediggers completed a 13-16 regular season that included a 3-15 Frontier Conference mark. They will play on Tuesday night in the Frontier Conference playoffs at either Carroll or Montana Western, depending on game outcomes this weekend.



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