BELGRADE — With his Forsyth girls basketball team clinging to a one-point lead over Harlem with seven seconds left in a first-round game at the State B tournament Thursday, coach Rian Pinkerton had a simple message for his squad.
“Shut them down,” the coach said during a timeout before the Wildcats inbounded the ball.
His players listened, forcing Harlem star L’Tia Lawrence into a difficult shot from the baseline that caromed off the side of the backboard. Forsyth sank two free throws to secure the game and escape with a 40-37 win at the Belgrade Special Events Center.
“We knew it was going to go to Lawrence, so we were just ready and we were going to switch on the screens and we were ready for her to get it. We had one foul to give, but we didn’t have to give it,” said Lindsey Hein, Forsyth’s 6-foot-5 sophomore.
Hein was a force on both ends of the floor for the Dogies, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed out of the Southern division. The official stats only listed Hein with one blocked shot, but she altered numerous others and helped limit Harlem to a 15-of-50 (30 percent) shooting night.
On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats had no answer for Hein, despite employing different defensive strategies throughout the game. Hein finished with a game-high 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
“It’s really nice. The last three-to-five weeks, it’s really started to come together inside,” Pinkerton said. “We’re a decent outside team, too. That’s a harder game to play. Our inside with 6-5 and 5-10, obviously, they complement each other really well.”
Roxanne Keefer, the other half of the Dogies’ duo, added 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds on Thursday. Forsyth out-rebounded Harlem 34-25.
The Dogies jumped out to an early advantage, leading 12-6 after one and 22-14 at halftime as the Wildcats missed their first nine 3-point attempts. Forsyth got the lead to 10 in the third quarter, but Lawrence finally hit her first 3 of the game, taking the lid off the bucket for the Wildcats.
They quickly put together a 19-5 run to close out the third quarter to take a 33-29 lead into the fourth. Lawrence, who finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, made three 3s in the third and hit Skylee Dirden with an assist on a back-door cut that gave Harlem its first lead of the half.
“As a coach, you get excited, but you’ve got to tell the girls where we’re at in our scenarios in the game,” Pinkerton said. “Yeah, they get the lead, and we knew they were going to make a run. Any given ball team is going to do that when they’re down. I just told them to stay calm and run our offense. We got a little out of our offense and started taking things for granted, and we weren’t getting it done on defense.”
The Dogies went back inside to quell Harlem’s run with Hein giving the lead back to Forsyth at 38-37 with an and-1 basket late in the game.
“Heading into the fourth quarter, coach just told us to take a deep breath, slow it down, play our game, so that’s just what we did,” Hein said.
Forsyth will now play in Friday’s semifinal round at 3:30 p.m. against Florence.
Harlem, which entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed out of the North, will fall to loser-out play. The Wildcats will tip off against Three Forks at noon Friday.
Florence 50, Three Forks 48
By the time Florence’s Danielle Zahn had finished playing the Falcons’ game against Three Forks in the first round of the Class B girls basketball state tournament Thursday, she was bloodied, battered and bruised.
Those ailments certainly feel better, though, after the Falcons held off a furious Three Forks rally for a 50-48 win at the Belgrade Special Events Center.
“Basketball’s a tough game,” Zahn said. “You fall down and you get back up. If that’s what it’s going to take, I’ll do it all night long.”
Zahn drew the toughest assignment of anybody on the floor Wednesday. Not only did she initiate and lead the Falcons’ offense, she owned the challenge of defending Three Forks standout Kyle Olson.
Zahn embraced both tasks, denying Olson the ball during a crucial Florence third-quarter run that propelled the Falcons to a 44-31 lead going to the fourth. It was that stretch — which included Zahn fist-pumps after a difficult three-point play in the lane and a straightaway 3-pointer to close the quarter — that proved to be the difference in the game.
“I love to get excited, I feel like it makes the game just so much better,” she said. “I like playing with enthusiasm, and it kind of gets the rest of the team pumped up. That’s what it’s all about.”
“She plays hard. The whole team depends on her. Truly, she’s one of those girls, I’ve always said she’s a once-in-a-lifetime point guard as a coach,” added Florence coach Duane Zeiler. “She just works hard, shoots, does everything well. Not that she never makes mistakes, but she’s going to make up for it down at the end.”
Zahn finished with 18 points to lead the Falcons, but Olson’s heroics almost undid Florence’s work. The Carroll College commit had a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds and brought Three Forks, the defending state champion, within 50-48 with less than a minute remaining on a 3-pointer. After a Wolves steal, Olson nearly gave Three Forks the lead on a 30-foot 3-point attempt. It hit front iron, though, and Florence escaped with a hard-fought win.
Rilee Mangun added 13 points for the Falcons, who also got seven each from Emma Stensrud and Makenna Miles.
“We had that 13-point lead, I think, at the end of the third quarter, and the third quarter is always our good quarter. I got a great coaching staff, we made good adjustments at halftime. It seems like we always do,” Zeiler said. “Our biggest problem is, we just haven’t had that many tough games all year long to know how to finish at the end. My girls, they do, they work hard, but we can see — we’re so young on the bench, we’re only able to go one deep all night, and we started to get tired there at the end, not moving as fast as we were. That’s kind of what happened. Thank God we held on. We made some mistakes, but we fought through them.”
That’s been the focus for Florence this season. The Falcons failed to make the state tournament last year, despite finishing the season with a 20-2 record. They’re here this year as the No. 1 seed out of the Western B, dominating many of their opponents.
As much as Zeiler and Zahn preached the “one game at a time” mantra, the goal all season has been to play on Saturday night at the state tournament. With Thursday’s win, the Falcons are one step closer. Florence will meet Forsyth in a Friday semifinal game at 3:30 p.m.
“After the loss last year, it just really took a toll on all of us, and it was super heart-breaking,” Zahn said. “Then this year, we kind of had a goal — it was like, ‘We want to go to state.’ … We always have the saying, like, ‘Three in a row.’ That’s what we had at divisionals. We took it by each game, so now we’re here and we’re doing the same exact thing.”