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State B girls: Baker back on top for the first time since 2001 after beating Missoula Loyola

Baker girls 2024 State B champions
Posted at 9:41 PM, Mar 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-10 10:46:33-04

BILLINGS — Baker’s first girls basketball championship since 2001 didn’t come without its moments.

Having outplayed Missoula Loyola for most of the Class B girls title game Saturday night and leading by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, the Spartans found themselves with just a one-point lead with 4:28 to play.

Baker regained its groove, though, and defeated the Breakers 58-44, setting off a Spartans celebration on the First Interstate Arena floor.

Madison O’Connor scored 29 points — 17-of-19 shooting from the free throw line helped — and Saraya Afrank, Baker’s lone senior, spearheaded another strong defensive performance as the Spartans earned the title in its first championship appearance since a 2006 loss to the same Loyola program.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” said Afrank, the commemorative basketball net draped around her neck. “Our girls worked out butts off all season. We hustle, our defense sets the tone for all of our games. It was just a lot of fun this season.”

In Friday’s semifinals, Afrank was tasked with tailing Ennis’ high-scoring Marisa Snider, who went into the game averaging 29 points in her previous give games. Afrank was instrumental in limiting Snider to 14 points in the Spartans’ win.

Saturday, her target was Loyola dynamo Gio Horner. Horner scored 27 points in the Breakers’ semifinal win but had just three points — all on free throws — and no shot attempts at the half. Keeping the ball out of Horner’s hands helped the Spartans gain 20 points on 16 first-half Loyola turnovers.

All of that should have spelled disaster for Loyola. But Baker foul trouble and Breakers’ persistence brought Loyola within three on a couple of occasions in the third quarter and finally 41-40 early in the fourth.

Baker’s response was to close the game on a 17-4 run, leaving Loyola second-year coach Aaron Ward down but not dismayed. In Horner and Ora Lindauer, Ward and the Breakers will have to say goodbye to two cornerstone seniors.

Spencer Laird led the Breakers with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Drew Lamb added 12 points and Horner finished with 11.

“They never quit,” Ward said of his team. “They did everything in their power to get the win. They emptied the gas tank tonight and unfortunately sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”

It bounced the right way for the Spartans and for coach Jason Coulter. Coulter was an assistant for the Spartans in ’06 and watched as the team’s undefeated season and championship hopes were dashed in one fell swoop with that 74-48 loss in Belgrade.

So perhaps there was a little bit of personal revenge.

But the main thing is the Spartans are bringing the championship trophy back to Baker, which brought a third-place trophy home last season.

“I’m just proud of the kids,” Coulter said. “We battled. We got into some foul trouble early and other girls had to step up and get in there and play hard and they did that.”

Earlier Saturday, Huntley Project sprung to life in the fourth quarter to pull away from Anaconda, 58-50, to claim the third-place trophy. The Red Devils stepped up a wrung on the ladder, one spot better than their fourth-place finish at state last season to claim the program’s first tournament trophy.

A 9-1 run to start the fourth pushed the Red Devils’ lead from 39-39 to 48-38. Anaconda closed within six points with 2:40 to play but the Red Devils closed out the win.

Paige Lofing had 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and Sannah Windy Boy finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Red Devils, who don’t list a senior on their roster.

Meela Mitchell paced Anaconda with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Makena Patrick, who surpassed 1,000 points for her career in a morning loser-out game, had 16 points and Maniya Lunceford added 12.

Saturday loser-out scores

Anaconda 61, Malta 58

Huntley Project 66, Ennis 31