Warriors pull away from Montana Tech women

By Bruce Sayler 

Lewis-Clark State looked to be in vengeance mode and showed why it is the No. 2-ranked NAIA women’s basketball team in the country Saturday evening.

The Warriors beat Montana Tech 76-57 in a Frontier Conference game played in Montana Tech’s HPER Complex. The win finished a three-game regular-season sweep for L-C State over the Orediggers.

Lewis-Clark State was coming off its first loss this season, a 64-57 setback at Carroll Friday night in Helena, and was in no mood to play around.

Still, the display didn’t completely damper Montana Tech’s mood, or sense of accomplishment. Senior point guard Hannah Thatcher, a Butte High graduate, became the Orediggers’ career assists leader. She needed five entering the contest to tie the mark and had notched four by halftime. A pass to wide-open Rachel Farris for a jump shot near the perimeter resulted in a basket and Thatcher had tied another Butte High grad, Sherry Sparks, for the record. Sparks played for Montana Tech 1987-91.

The basket came at the 6-minute, 19-second mark of the third quarter.

Then, 33 seconds later, Thatcher found Farris on the baseline for a reverse layup and the record was hers. She went on to finish with eight for the game, 468 for her career with at least five more games left to play.

The 5-foot-5 senior seemed a little surprised by the attention for gaining the record.

“What I told my teammates,” she said, “was obviously, I can’t do it without them. They had to make the shots.”

She said passing is not something she works on much, even though it shows up strongly in her all-around game.”

“I don’t intend to work on it,” she said. “I think it’s more something that comes naturally, I think. I like getting the ball to my teammates. I’ve never been a great shooter, so I’ve adjusted other parts of my game so that I can still help my team.”

It’s not that she never wanted to be a scorer.  However, she learned young that her abilities as a passer, floor general and on defense likely surpassed her offensive potential.

“I’ve been more of a passer since my sophomore year (in high school),” Thatcher said. “I got over the role of needing to score. Instead, I tried to be a true point guard.”

The choice worked out pretty well for Thatcher and for the Orediggers. It was feared last month that her career was ended early by a knee injury. After a little time ott, Thatcher went back to doctors for a checkup and all seemed surprised that everything looked fine in the knee and she was cleared to play and rejoined the team to play in Thursday’s Montana Tech loss at Carroll..

She came off the bench in Saturday’s game.

“The knee feels all right,” she said. “It’s been awesome to be back and maybe now I can be there for the team.”
Lewis-Clark State sent four players into double figures in the scoring column while defeating the Orediggers. The Warriors were too quick on defense and too strong on the boards. They often beat Montana Tech shooters to their spots for tough defense. The L-C State rebounders cleaned a dozen offensive caroms off the hanger while Montana Tech was only able to muster three.

Overall, the Waririors outrebounded the Orediggers 40-33.

Caelyn Orlandi led Lewis-Clark State in scoring with 17 points, Brooke Litalien tallied 16, Jossilyn Blackman 13 and Brittany Tackett 10.

Still, Montana Tech was very much in the game for a good while.

Monica Landdeck’s 3-point basket with 22 seconds left in the first quarter gave the Orediggers a 15-14 edge heading into the second frame.

The Warriors retook the lead with a 3-pointer from the hot shooting Litalien and a basket by Orlandi. Landdeck connected for two points. Another Litalien trey made it a 22-17 L-C State lead before Farris sank a shot off a pass from Kaylynn Coverdell and Thatcher netted a pair of free throws.

It was a one-point game and Lewis-Clark State was determined to pull away. The Warriors ran off six straight points for a seven-point gap. Still, the Orediggers challenged. They got a 3-pointer from Martha Dembek just before the halftime buzzer that cut their deficit to 37-33.

The teams traded baskets to begin the second half. The Orediggers’ were by Kourtney Coverdell and Dembek, with the former being a 3-pointer. So, Montana Tech was within three points of the lead, 41-38, playing the nation’s second-ranked team and with 8:40 to go in the third quarter.

Lewis-Clark State ran off five consecutive points, then the Orediggers came back with six in a row. Four were tallied on the record assists by Thatcher to Farris, and the other two on another Farris jumper from about 12 feet.

The flurry narrowed the difference to two points, 46-44, with 5:18 left in the frame.

The Warriors exploded.

They outscored Montana Tech 12-4 over the next five minutes to hold a 58-48 advantage going into the last quarter. Orlandi tallied six points in the run.

L-C State then burned a 16-2 spree on the Orediggers the first six minutes of the fourth frame and the victory was clinched. Blackmon caged a pair of 3s while scoring half of the points in the surge.

Dembek finished with 16 points to lead Montana Tech and Farris was next-high with 12. Bailey Armbruster scored eight points, Landdeck and Kourtney Coverdell five apiece, Shay Potter four, Kimi Heng three, and Thatcher and Callie Remsen two each. Kayylynn Coverdell and Kaylee Zard also played.

The win put Lewis-Clark State at 24-1 for the season, 12-1 in conference play. The team’s Friday loss at Carroll snapped a winning streak at 23 games. Montana Tech is now 11-13 for the season and 5-7 in the Frontier. The Orediggers will be home against Great Falls on Thursday for their next game.