GREAT FALLS — That once-in-a-lifetime feeling has come twice for the Box Elder girls basketball team.
The Bears used a first-half surge to build a lead and clutch free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter to secure it in a 48-42 win over Roy-Winifred in the Class C girls basketball state championship Saturday at Pacific Steel & Recycling Four Seasons Arena.
“It’s a goal, you know, every year to come to the state tournament,” said Box Elder’s Lilly Gopher. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, and we did it.”
Gopher, one of five seniors on Box Elder’s roster, saved her best for last at this state tournament. She drained three 3-pointers on her way to 11 first-half points as the Bears built what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. They were up 19-8 at the end of the first quarter, but Box Elder grew the lead to as many as 16 points — 31-15 — in the second.
Everything came up Bears in the first half. Box Elder forced Roy-Winifred into 20 turnovers, which resulted in 26 Bears points. They had five offensive rebounds compared to just one for the much bigger Outlaws. They made five 3s as a team and held Roy-Winifred to just 13 field-goal attempts.
“I think we were able to play our style, our tempo. We were pushing the ball, attacking, hitting open shots,” said Bears coach Joel Rosette. “We had a great start up to that 16-point lead and the girls responded. They obviously lost their best player (Dyauni Boyce to foul trouble in the first half) and I was hoping we could push (the lead) to 20, but it did not happen.”
The Outlaws managed to weather the storm and trim the lead to single digits, 31-22, at halftime. An Olivia Geer 3-pointer brought Roy-Winifred within six in the early goings of the third quarter as the Outlaws ensured the energetic fans who braved the frigid temperatures a competitive game.
Roy-Winifred’s twin towers — junior Dyauni Boyce and freshman Madeline Heggem — were mostly neutralized in the first half. The duo arrived in the second, combining for 17 points and 11 rebounds in the second half as the Outlaws scratched and clawed their way back into the game. Box Elder took a 40-30 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Bears wouldn’t make a field goal in the fourth as the Outlaws trimmed the margin to just 40-38 with just about two minutes remaining.
That’s when Gopher and her teammates calmly stepped to the free throw line to secure the win. Box Elder made 10 of 12 free throws in the second half, including 8 of 10 in the fourth quarter. Gopher made both of her fourth-quarter attempts, Sarah Parisian knocked down some big ones, as well, and Eve The Boy scored the game’s final two points at the stripe.
“The girls, every night somebody was giving their best to us, but the girls, every time they got punched they came right back and battled all the way through. I think that resiliency that we talk about, our team showed it all year,” Rosette said.
Gopher finished with a game-high 15 points, while Joelnell Momberg added 13 for the Bears. Boyce and Heggem scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, for Roy-Winifred, which doesn’t have a single senior on the roster.
As The Boy stepped to the line for Box Elder’s final two points, Gopher started the Bears’ celebration. A smile spread across her face as she gathered teammates for celebratory hugs, capping a career that will go down in Box Elder history.
“For her to cap her senior season off with back-to-back titles, I couldn’t ask for a better gift for her,” Rosette said. “She deserved it. She worked hard through her four years of high school, and I’m really proud of her being able to do it on the biggest stage.”
“I was like, ‘Dang, we’re going back-to-back,'” Gopher said of the final moments of her high school career. “It’s just one of the greatest feelings ever, and I have to credit my teammates because they were out there with me. I love them with all my heart.”