By Bruce Sayler
The noise was a numbers racket for The Master’s against Montana Tech Tuesday night and 14 was just one of them in the mix.
As the 14th-ranked women’s basketball team in NAIA in the country, and centered around 6-foot-6 post Stephanie Soares, The Master’s put up the most decisive number of all, a 79-73 non-conference win over the Orediggers in the Montana Tech HPER Complex. The loss was the Orediggers’ first in four games this young season. (Stats)
The Master’s victory was ruggedly earned. The numbers of the night spilled down both sides of the stat sheet. Soares, a freshman from Sao Paulo, Brazil, wound up with 17 points, seven rebounds and a most impressive 10 shot blocks, s school record. Hannah Forrar and Sabrina Thompson netted 14 points each and Anika Neuman scored 10.
The big numbers for the Orediggers belonged to Kaylee Zard and Mesa Williams. Zard played inspirational basketball with a career-high 26 points to go with eight rebounds, every one of which was scrapped and battled for to get. Williams tossed in 23 points.
A number that hurt Montana Tech was the 4-for-19 effort from 3-point range on a night the inside points were largely unavailable due to the Mustangs’ superior size in the paint.
“It was a great game,” Carly Sanon, head coach of the Orediggers, said. “They’re ranked 14th for good reason. All of their players are back from last year, plus No. 25 (Soares). We play five new players. We’re in a building stage and I feel very good about where we’re at.”
Montana Tech led the game sometimes and was always competitive in it.
A fast-break basket by Williams off a Sharlei Graham-Bernisto pass capped an 8-0 Oredigger run and tied The Master’s at 46-all. The clock showed 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Jessica Soares sank two free throws to return the edge to the Mustangs before the Orediggers caught up one more time on a runner from the key by Mollie Peoples.
The Master’s, of Santa Clarita, California, closed the period on an 8-0 run, then tallied the first five points of the fourth quarter for a 13-0 total surge to snag the lead for good. Thompson knocked down a long jumper, and then two foul shots to key the spree that ended with Neuman arcing in a 3-pointer and a stumbling, falling down shot that banged around the rim and backboard before rolling through the hoop.
“We had it tied and then they got that 8-0 run,” Sanon said. “We called a timeout. It is hard to get into that gap when you’re playing against that good of a team.”
The difference did dwindle to five points once down the stretch, 70-65 after a Peoples basket with 2:42 on the clock. The Mustangs countered, though, on a steal and layup by Forrar and three-point play by Stephanie Soares.
The Mustangs were able to clinch at the free throw line in the waning moments.
“The difference was we missed some layups down the stretch and some two-on-one opportunities that we didn’t score on,” Sanon said, and noted that the fight shown by the Orediggers reflected in a turnover ratio of 17-9 won by Montana Tech. “Kaylee and Mesa played really well, it was a big night for those two.”
The coach also cited the good play of Shay Potter, though hampered by foul trouble, and Celestina Faletoi in the post. Sanon acknowledged the utilization of the mobility of the post players as they tried to draw the opposing bigger players away from the hoop.
They combated the Soares sisters well before intermission. The halftime margin was only three points, 35-33 in favor of the Mustangs.
“They’re big,” Sanon said of going up against the Mustangs. “In the first half, we did a good job against their height. Then, in the second half, she (Stephanie Soares) got a bunch of blocks and we got intimidated. We were finally able to shoot around her in the fourth quarter.”
The 6-6 Soares was backed by her 6-3 sister, Jessica, while three other players for The Master’s — Rebekah Throns, Hannah Throns and Neuman all measured 6-0 or 6-1.
Montana Tech answered with the 6-2 Potter, 6-1 Faletoi and 6-0 Zard.
The Orediggers will play Northwest Indian College in Pablo on Thursday.
The win was the season-opener for The Master’s, which will play in Great Falls against Providence University on Thursday.