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Defense, effort willed Baker girls to first State B title since 2001

Baker girls 2024 State B champions
Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 15, 2024

BILLINGS — The Baker girls celebrated their first Class B state title in 23 years last weekend after topping Missoula Loyola by double digits.

The Spartans have made headlines the past two seasons with their prolific scoring spearheaded by sophomore Madison O’Connor, who averaged nearly 26 per game, but it’s at the other end of the floor where Baker hangs its hat.

“Everyone thinks that the offense is most important, but the offense only comes if you're playing defense," O'Connor said. "The offense follows after our defense, especially."

The Spartans are in good position to chase another championship next year, losing just one senior. But Saraya Afrank’s impact for Baker goes well beyond the box score.

Afrank held Ennis super sophomore Marissa Snider, who came in averaging 29 points per game in her previous five games, to just 14 points and Loyola’s Gio Horner to no shot attempts in the opening half of the title game after Horner had 27 in the semifinals.

“She had a heck of a tournament, and she's had a heck of a year," Baker head coach Jason Coulter said of Afrank. "She's our defensive leader. She sets the tone with her pressure and she's such a great athlete. She's always up for the challenge of setting the tone. Basically I put her on the best ball handler every game."

There were some low points in the season for Baker, even though the Spartans cooked up a 22-4 record, as they lost a heartbreaker to Miles City and lost three times to Huntley Project. But they kept their nose down and stuck with the process.

“All I want is effort. If you do that, we'll win a lot of ball games, so I just keep preaching it. Every day in practice, every game day, just give me your full effort. I don't care if its 30 seconds, while you're on the bench or if you're in the game," Coulter said. "Just give me all your effort, and that's just my motto. We're going to stick with it and it's been good for two years."

They’ve racked up a lot of wins in those two seasons, and the work for a Spartan repeat has already begun.