HELENA — The Carroll College women are champions once again, netting their third Frontier Conference basketball tournament title in four years after defeating the Montana Western Bulldogs 70-62 on Monday night.
The Fighting Saints went into the game firing on all cylinders, appearing like they couldn't be stopped. Carroll College sophomore Jamie Pickens opened the game scoring the Fighting Saints' first seven points, and the Saints wrapped up the opening frame on a 10-3 run to put the score at 22-10.
The Saints pulled away even further in the second quarter, dominating the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball, as both Pickens and Christine Denny finished the first half with double-digit point totals.
"We talk a lot about making sure that our offense doesn't dictate our defense, but sometimes it's hard," said Carroll College head coach Rachelle Sayers. "Sometimes when they're making shots and making runs, it's tough to not let one affect the other."
The second half belonged to the Bulldogs, who shot 50% from the floor in the second compared to 23% in the first to continuously chip away at the Fighting Saints' lead.
With just more than a minute to go, Lily Gopher got the Bulldogs as close as they had been nearly all game with a layup bringing the score to 66-60 in favor of Carroll. However, that would be as close as the Bulldogs would get on the night, as the Fighting Saints led nearly wire to wire to win their third conference tournament in four years.
It's a win Denny will never forget because of what she and her teammates had to go through to get there.
"This year has just been so tough with COVID and no fans and canceled games. I think for us to be able to push through and win our third -- my third conference championship -- in four years has been just so exciting," said Denny. "For us seniors, it's just a really great way to go out."
Denny is one of four seniors on the Fighting Saints' roster alongside Dani Wagner, Emma Madsen and Jaidyn Lyman. Though this group of players may never set foot on a basketball court in a playing capacity for the Fighting Saints ever again after this season, they've certainly left their mark on the program.
"Unbelievable. Irreplaceable. I don't know that I'll ever coach a better group of kids, not just as players, but as people," said Sayers. "Their commitment to the school and our program and to me is second to none."
There is a chance that the four seniors could come back for a fifth year, something that Sayers would certainly welcome. However, if they don't, Sayers just hopes they enjoyed their time as Fighting Saints.
"I hope they all come back, but if they don't I hope this is a year that is as memorable as it can be, because they deserve it. I couldn't be more proud of them," said Sayers. "It was just really special to be able to just share that ceremony, cut down those nets, hold up that trophy with just our group because that's how it's been this year. Without fans, without families, it was just kind of us, and that was pretty special."
With the win, the Fighting Saints have secured a spot in the NAIA national tournament and will find out who and where they play when the NAIA national tournament selection show kicks off on Thursday at 5 p.m.