SAVAGE – What a difference a week makes.
The Savage girls basketball team finished the regular season third in District 2C, behind both Plentywood and Froid/Medicine Lake. The weekend before the district tournament, Savage lost to Plentywood and Froid/Medicine Lake on back-to-back nights.
“We were kind of in a funk there,” Savage head coach Henry Huber said of the late losses. “We weren’t playing our best basketball. We just kind of got settled in with playing to the competition. We weren’t in very many close games, so to get a couple close games from your two toughest opponents at the end of the year, it was kind of an eye opener for us on what we had to do to get better.”
Savage flipped the script in the matter of days. In the District 2C semifinals, Savage avenged their loss to Froid/Medicine Lake. In the finals, the Warriors took down Plentywood, 48-47, to claim the District 2C championship. Huber pointed to the effort and intensity on the defensive end of the floor as the turning point.
“We picked up our intensity on defense. We’d been playing really flat-footed defense,” Huber said. “(When we were successful) earlier in the year, we were really aggressive pushing pace. We kind of stopped pushing the pace of the game, started playing at other teams’ pace. A lot of pressure was off our shoulders once we lost. Actually having two tough games opened our eyes on how much harder we had to work.”
All three meetings with Plentywood this season have come down to the final possession, with no margin of victory greater than a single point.
“It’s come down to free throws,” Huber said of the previous meetings. The first time we played them, they should have had us in Savage. It came don to free throws at the end, and they missed them. When we went to Plentywood, if we would have made our free throws we would have had them.
“In the district championship game, we had a 10-point lead with three or four minutes left, and we just kind of got into more of controlling the ball mode than attack mode. Plentywood made a few shots, got pretty agressive, and their pressure got to us a little bit.”
Last season, Savage won the Eastern C girls divisional to draw a spot in the State C tournament. A victory against Harlowton sandwiched in between losses to Arlee in the opening round and Twin Bridges in the Saturday morning loser-out has fueled their success this season.
“They’ve been working all year to get back to state,” said Huber. “They’ve had a different mindset. Last year, we were in a lot of closer games and didn’t have the mindset to put teams away once we got a big lead. This year, we’ve held on to all of our leads down the stretch, for the most part. This year’s team knows what it takes to get there, and they know the work ethic it takes to get to the next level.”
The Warriors returned four starters off last year’s state tournament team, led by Junior Soda rice. Rice had 22 points in Thursday’s win over Fairview to propel Savage to the Eastern C divisional semifinal Friday night where a rematch with Froid/Medicine Lake awaits.
“(Soda) has a very nice inside game, great offensive game,” Huber said of his star forward. “she plays great man-to-man defense. Her athletic ability is tremendous. She has long arms, and she has good timing defensively.”