Cowboys championship dreams dashed: Grant County upends Killdeer to win Class B state crown
MINOT — The path taken by the Killdeer girls basketball team through the 2017-18 season has been nothing short of a roller-coaster.
Entering as favorites following an undefeated regular season in regional play, the Cowboys survived and advanced through the Region 7 tournament gauntlet.
Qualifying for the state tournament for just the second time in program history (2005), Killdeer faced a pair of seeded teams.
In the 2018 Class B Girls Basketball State Final, their opponent, the No. 5 Grant County Coyotes, were too much to handle, defeating Killdeer 53-44 in on Saturday, Mar. 3 from the Minot State Dome.
Killdeer won 12 of their last 14 games of the season. The only two losses in that stretch came from the hands of the Coyotes.
"We played a very, very skilled, well-coached and talented basketball team," Killdeer head coach Ashlee Viveros said. "I think that we played really, really competitive in stretches. I think the heart was there, just like it's been the whole tournament and I'm just so proud. I'm a very, very proud coach and I hope that we represented the region well this year."
Cowboys senior guard Sydney Anderson, the team leader in steals and rebounds, was everywhere on the floor in the first quarter. She forced Coyote ball handlers into turnovers with her pressure defense, crashed the boards for three rebounds and used active hands to the tune of two steals. When she wasn't racing around on the defensive end, she was standing still set to take a charge, as she drew a Coyotes offensive foul late in the opening period.
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, the Cowboys utilized ball movement to get quality looks. After ball rotation resulted in a basket inside by senior forward Trae Murray, Killdeer ended the first period on top 13-6.
However, Grant County responded with adjustments in the middle periods that hanged the contest in their favor.
The Coyotes applied pressure on every Killdeer inbound, causing havoc and turnovers as the Cowboys tried advancing the ball up the court. In addition, they swarmed into the paint whenever Killdeer looked inside, holding the Cowboys to 1-for-11 shooting from the floor in the second period.
"They put two girls into the frontcourt and of course that slows our point guard down just a little bit," Viveros said. "They really pack it inside so it makes it a little bit more difficult for our bigs to score inside, I think that was a good adjustment for them."
Following a 8-2 run to open the second quarter, Grant County tied the score at 15 with a basket in transition from senior forward Taylor Roehl and carried a 20-19 lead into halftime.
Following the break with a switch from man-to-man defense to a zone, the Coyotes made life difficult for Cowboy players driving into the lane or swinging the ball into the post.
"I think after halftime, we came out and went from being in a man-to-man to a zone so that we could just stop some of their dribbling and getting to the basket," Grant County head coach Nicole Bentz said. "We were forcing them to do things they didn't want to, taking shots they weren't ready to play and just hustling. We were out there scrappy, getting after loose balls, tipping balls here or there. You just have to come out and play, you can't leave anything to second guess after a game like this. You just have to leave it on the floor and that's what we did."
Grant County pulled ahead by five early through the third period following a Roehl steal and layup, but Killdeer charged back, taking a 31-30 advantage following an Anderson 3-pointer from the top of the key.
With the momentum swaying over to KHS, the Coyotes, as they did all game long, had an answer, ending the third quarter on a 6-0 run.
On their heels, the Cowboys always had a knack finding the perfect counter, but Saturday was not one of those nights as they committed six turnovers in the final eight minutes.
"I thought in the third and fourth quarter, we played a little bit too fast, didn't control the tempo as well as we'd like. Those things happen when you are dealing with a high school basketball team," Viveros said.
Down 46-37 with 2:42 left in the game, Killdeer made one final push.
Murray was sent to line, where she made the first free throw, but missed her second free throw attempt. After the Coyotes secured the rebound, Murray snatched the ball out of a Grant County's players hands and found Anderson cutting to the basket for a score.
Murray again collected a steal on the ensuing rebound, but he shot inside was blocked.
In the final minute, Murray scored inside for two of her game-high 19 points, bringing the deficit to 47-42, but the Coyotes iced the game after breaking Killdeer's press and finding freshman guard Isabelle Boyer for an easy lay-in.
In their final games wearing orange and white, Anderson finished with 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, while Murray capped her double-double with 11 rebounds. Both were selected to the all-tournament team.
Roehl led the Coyotes with 18 points and was named tournament MVP. Senior guard Alexis Bentz was solid in many areas, finishing the title game with 13 points, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
"It feels great. A lot of things fell into place for us and you just couldn't ask for a better ending for some of these girls that are graduating," Nicole Bentz said. "They just worked hard for this. It's just that hard work and dedication pays off."
Killdeer 53, Grant County 44
GC 6 14 16 17
K 13 6 12 13
GC: Taylor Roehl 18, Alexis Benz 13, Camryn Alt 9, Coral Alt 6, Isabelle Boyer 4, Molly Wetzel 3.
K: Trae Murray 19, Sydney Anderson 14, Bridgette Reiss 7, Shawnee Hansen 4.
3-pointers: GC 2 (Bentz 1, Wetzel 1), K 3 (Anderson 2). Free throws: GC 11-16, K 7-11. Total fouls: GC 9, K 13. Rebounds: GC 35 (Roehl 9), K 39 (Anderson 12). Assists: GC 11 (Bentz 5), K 14 (Anderson 4, Hansen 4). Steals: GC 16 (Boyer 4, Co. Alt 4), K 10 (Murray 3, Anderson 3). Blocks: GC 7 (Ca. Alt 4), K 3 (Murray 1, Anderson 1, Hansen 1). Turnovers: GC 16, K 20. Records: GC 22-5, K 22-5.