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State B girls: Baker, Ennis join Missoula Loyola, Malta in semifinal round as two divisional champs stumble

Missoula Loyola girls basketball
Posted at 12:59 PM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 21:33:43-05

BILLINGS — Two divisional champions went down in the first round of the Class B girls basketball state tournament, while the third hung on in first-round games Thursday at First Interstate Arena.

Missoula Loyola, the No. 2 seed from the Western division, edged Southern B divisional winner Huntley Project 56-54 in the final seconds. Malta, the Northern B’s top seed, then followed with a 48-43 win over Florence, the Western division’s third seed.

In the second session, Ennis eked out a win over Western divisional champ Anaconda 53-51 to continue the tournament theme of close games. Baker closed the first day with a 46-30 win over Chinook, though the Sugarbeeters made a game of it with a strong third quarter.

Loyola and Malta will play in Friday’s first semifinal at 3:30 p.m. The second semifinal features Ennis taking on Baker at 5 p.m.

Project and Florence face off in a 9 a.m. loser-out game. At 10:30 a.m., Anaconda will play Chinook in the second loser-out contest.

Missoula Loyola 56, Huntley Project 54

Gio Horner’s bucket with three seconds left proved the difference as the Breakers knocked down the Southern B’s top seed.

There were 10 lead changes and seven ties in the game, including the last one after the Red Devils battled back from a 28-19 halftime deficit, Loyola’s largest lead in the game. Project had one final possession but couldn’t get a basket to extend or win the game.

Spencer Laird led the way for Loyola with a 30-point, 13-rebound performance. She made 10 of 20 shots from the floor, including a 3-for-5 effort from the 3-point line.

Drew Lamb scored seven points and Horner and Ora Lindauer both finished with six points.

Paige Lofing had 24 points to lead the Red Devils, who shot just 23% in the first half. Sannah Windy Boy added 13 points and nine rebounds.

Malta 48, Florence 43

Denvyr Tuss put in 16 points to lead the M-ettes to the win in another back-and-forth contest at the tourney.

The teams took turns leading at the quarter breaks, with Malta taking a 32-29 lead after the third. The M-ettes hung on from there to win a game that had eight lead changes and five ties.

Elly Anderson added 10 points for Malta.

The Falcons didn’t put a player into double digits, but Emory Ralston, Maggie Schneiter and Kenzy Pickering all had nine points.

Ennis 53, Anaconda 51

Marissa Snider tallied 31 points, but it was her steal and subsequent free throw following her own free throw miss that helped seal the win for the Mustangs, who are in their first season at the Class B level.

Ennis led for much of the second half, though the Copperheads continually stayed within striking range.

After a Snider basket gave Ennis a 46-40 lead, Anaconda whittled that to 46-45 and 49-48 before Moela Mitchell tied the score 51-51 on a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play.

With 6.7 seconds left, Snider hit one free throw before missing the second. Anaconda got the rebound, but Snider stole the ball near the free throw line and was fouled. She ran to the Ennis bench to receive a high-five from coach Jordan Overstreet and then sank a final free throw with 1.6 seconds remaining.

Anaconda’s heave at the buzzer after Snider’s miss of the second free throw fell way short.

Snider misfired on her first few shots but quickly warmed up. She and Allysea Hilton hit two 3-pointers each in the first half to help offset Anaconda’s ability to get to the free throw line.

The Copperheads were 10 of 13 from the foul line in the first, which kept them within four points at the break.

Snider hit her first basket of the game at the 2:00 mark of the first quarter and wound up with 17 first-half points. She finished the game making 11 of 22 shots and 6 of 10 from the line.

Maniyah Lunceford paced Anaconda with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Mitchell finished with 12 points.

Baker 46, Chinook 30

Madison O’Connor hit two 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter to slow up a Chinook surge, and the Spartans moved on to the semifinals.

Chinook’s Hallie Neibauer willed the Sugarbeeters back into the game after they trailed 20-6 at the half. Neibauer scored 16 points in the third quarter to help Chinook get within five points to start the fourth.

But O’Connor hit two quick 3s to start the final period, and Baker went on to build its lead back to double digits again.

O’Connor made four 3-pointers overall and finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. She also had five assists, five blocked shots and four steals.

Neibauer wound up with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Hannah Schoen grabbed 10 rebounds for Chinook, which played in the Class C state tournament last season and went 1-2.

Chinook didn’t make a shot from the floor in the first quarter and the Spartans took advantage.

They led 12-2 after the first quarter – both Chinook points came on trips to the foul line – and built it to 20-6 by halftime.

Chinook made just 2 of 18 shots in the first half. Baker made just 7 of 30 shots, but it was enough to give the Spartans some breathing room after what was a taut first three games of the tournament.