GREAT FALLS — Looking back, Jamie Pickens knows that Carroll College's taxing preseason stretch — one that saw the Saints fall to Division I programs Oregon and Brigham Young University — helped toughen and prepare this team for "crunch time."
"We were all prepared, trusted in each other, stayed calm, stayed composed," said Pickens.
For the No. 11 Saints, crunch time came around again in the fourth quarter of the Frontier Tournament championship against No. 15 Montana Western. In a game that saw the teams exchange 11 lead changes, the Saints finally delivered the final one.
Kamden Hilborn hit a go-ahead layup with 7:51 remaining and the Saints never relinquished the lead again as Carroll — which had already clinched the conference regular season title — held on for a 53-47 victory to claim its first tournament title since 2021, with that championship win also coming against the Bulldogs.
Pickens, who got into foul trouble early and played just five minutes in the first half, got rolling in the second half and finished with a game high 18 points to go along with eight rebounds. Sienna Swannack added 11 points for the Saints and Kyndall Keller grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
"This team is unreal," said Pickens. "My teammates back me up so that's super special. Just everyone stepped up. It's an awesome feeling to have that especially going deep into March. I trust my teammates and they trust me."
The Saints trailed 28-26 at halftime and in the locker room realized they "had nothing to lose."
The Bulldogs and Saints largely went shot for shot after the break as the Bulldogs clung to a 38-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter. But when that crunch time rolled around, Carroll found a way to prevail.
"This was a battle of two really good teams with really good players," said Carroll head coach Rachelle Sayers. "At the end of the day our players just made a couple more plays than theirs did.
The Saints, who now gear up for the NAIA National Tournament, concluded the Frontier season with a 14-1 mark in league play, their lone loss coming to Rocky Mountain College on January 7.
Western was led by Brynley Fitzgerald who scored a team-high 14 points but was held to just a single point in the second half. Jordan Sweeney and Emily Cooley each added 9 points for the Bulldogs who led by as many as 8 points late in the second half.