GREAT FALLS — The Bigfork girls pushed their record to 24-0 with a gritty 56-47 win over Southern B champ Huntley Project in the state semifinals. The nightcap featured Big Timber gutting out a slugfest with Malta, winning 45-43 to advance to the title game.
Bigfork 56, Huntley Project 47
The dream season for the Bigfork girls continues.
The undefeated Valkyries withstood a stiff challenge from the Southern division champion Huntley Project Red Devils, earning a 56-47 win in the semifinals.
Now Bigfork has a chance to win the program’s first ever state title on Saturday night.
“We just wanted to be here. We just wanted a chance and we earned that,” said head coach Cortnee Gunlock. “And I just am so proud of this team and how unselfish they are. And it doesn't matter who steps up one night or the other, it's hard to shut five people down.”
On Friday, it was hard for Huntley Project to shut one person down. Sophomore Braeden Gunlock, Cortnee’s daughter, scored 33 points, pulled in 17 rebounds and recorded four steals. A championship level stat line, but one that’s not surprising to her coach.
“I saw the Braeden I know can come out. She played tenacious defense, handled rebounding being strong with the ball,” coach Gunlock said. “Then going into the post, she just kind of did everything for us tonight. And I kind of told her she might need to do that.”
Gunlock is one of the brightest stars in Class B, and she needed that kind of performance to withstand the onslaught of another star.
Huntley Project sophomore Paige Lofing dropped 28 points and nine rebounds in the loss, at times single handedly keeping her team in the game. The Red Devils answered nearly every Valkyrie run, and Lofing was the catalyst.
She hit a buzzer beating three at the end of both the second and third quarters to keep Huntley within striking distance. But behind Gunlock’s performance, the Valkyries out-rebounded the Red Devils 39-27 including 16 offensive boards which led to 20 second chance points.
In addition to Braeden Gunlock’s big night, Ava Davey added 11 points and swiped seven steals. Maddison Akins had nine points for Huntley.
Bigfork improves to 25-0 on the season. During their run to the State B tournament, they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 48 points. But Thursday’s game against Baker and tonight’s game against Huntley have been by far the toughest challenges of the season for the Valkyries.
And it has them prepared for what’s in store Saturday night against Big Timber at 8:30 p.m.
“Baker gave us everything that we could handle as well. So, it's another level,” coach Gunlock said. “But absolutely, these are the toughest couple of games we've ever faced this year. Both Malta and Big Timber have very good shooters. So we will have to shut them down for sure.”
Big Timber 45, Malta 43
The State B tournament saved its best Friday game for last.
In a back-and-forth contest, Big Timber got the last punch. Down by one, Kameryn Ketcham hit a three with 4.1 seconds left on the clock to put the Herders up 45-43. Malta couldn’t get a shot off before time expired and the celebration was on for Big Timber.
“I thought about my team, especially our seniors,” Ketcham said of her shot. “I thought about how bad we wanted to make it to the state championship this year. And I just was like, ‘I got to do this for them,’ you know?”
Ketcham led Big Timber with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting including 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The Herders looked like they might run away with the game in the early going. After leading 12-6 after the first quarter, the Herders scored the first six points of the second quarter to push the lead to 18-6. Malta then went on a 14-2 run to enter halftime tied at 20.
“We started out really good, and then at halftime, it was tied. So, yeah, that was stressful,” Ketcham said. “And then we knew we could do it. It was up and down a lot, but but pulled it out.”
Malta, who had just witnessed the Mustangs boys advance to the title, had chances to win the game. They led 42-38 with under two minutes left, but missed 5-of-6 free throws to close the game.
But Big Timber ran through the open door left by the M-Ettes, using key shots from and Ketcham Bailey Finn who had 14 points.
The M-Ettes were led by freshman Denvyr Tuss with 14 points and eight rebounds. Allison Kunze added 11 points, seven rebounds and five steals while Addy Anderson had nine points and seven boards.
But Malta only managed 1-of-9 from deep, while the Herders converted 7-of-19 three point shots to seal the win.
Big Timber will face undefeated Bigfork in Saturday night’s state championship game at 8:30 p.m. The Herders are just two years removed from winning the 2021 state title, and the players who were on that roster were itching to get back.
“We’ve all played together since we were like third, fourth, fifth grade. And this has always been our dream. So we always play for each other and do our best for each other,” Ketcham said. “I was a part of it my freshman year when we won and it was super fun and I always wanted to come back, especially for Bailey and Emily (Prather), it’s their senior year and this is super exciting.”