BELGRADE — The Florence girls basketball team has won 21 consecutive games.
If the Falcons win one more Saturday at the Belgrade Special Events Center, they’ll be Class B state champions.
“That’s what we keep saying, ‘Just one more, one more, one more, one more.’ Now we’re down to that ‘one more’ for the final time,” said Florence coach Duane Zeiler. “That’s what we’re looking for right now.”
The Falcons got that 21st first in convincing fashion Friday, pulling away for a 59-37 win over Forsyth in the semifinal round. The Falcons didn’t qualify for the state tournament last year despite losing just two games all season.
The 2018-19 season has been a redemption tour of sorts, and it reach its peak Friday. Danielle Zahn scored 27 points to lead three Falcons in double digits as they overwhelmed the Dogies in the second half.
With the game tied at 20 at halftime, Florence opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run. Lindsey Hein, Forsyth’s talented 6-foot-5 post presence, answered back with six consecutive points to get the Dogies back within two.
That’s when Zahn took over. The 5-foot-5 dynamo bound for MSU Billings scored eight points — two 3s and a long 2 — in a Florence 10-1 run to give the Falcons a 38-27 lead going into the fourth quarter. Zahn was just getting started, though. She made three more 3s in the fourth quarter, scoring 19 second-half points as the Falcons flew into the championship game.
“As soon as you knock down a 3, it kind of just goes with the momentum, and your confidence just raises. That’s kind of what it was all about for me,” Zahn said in the midst of a raucous Florence celebration. “I just wanted to help my team get here.”
“Those of us who know Dani know she can do that,” Zeiler said. “We kind of challenged her (Friday) morning, we calmed her down after (Thursday, when Florence earned a hard-fought win over Three Forks in the first round). We told her, ‘You just got to come out and have a fundamental game, Dani, and play like you know how to play.’ There’s no doubt in my mind that you can look at her (Friday) and see that she’s the best player in this tournament. She just flat gets it done for 5-foot-4. That girl can play ball.”
Zahn stole the headlines with her shooting display — she was 11 of 15 for the game, including 5 of 6 on 3s — but the Falcons were far from a one-player show Friday. Rilee Mangun added 14 points and Makenna Miles had 12. Miles had eight in the first half as the teams felt each other out.
According to Zeiler, Joey Janetski had perhaps the best game of her career, too. She drew the task of limiting Forsyth’s interior duo of Hein and Roxanne Keefer.
“You’ve got to hand it to our big girl, Joey, inside. That’s the best I’ve ever seen her play. She played her butt off,” Zeiler said. “We challenged her (Friday) morning at shootaround and said, ‘Joey, we need 10 points and 10 rebounds out of you tonight.’ I think she made up for it on defense.”
Janetski finished with six points and five rebounds and battled inside all game. Hein finished with a team-high 17 points for Forsyth, but the Dogies made just 16 of 54 field goals (29.6 percent) in the game.
Forsyth will now play a loser-out game against Missoula Loyola at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The Breakers defeated Fairfield, 57-54 in overtime, earlier Friday in a loser-out game.
Florence will gun for its first state championship in more than two decades at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Wolf Point. The Falcons last won a title in 1998.
“It means everything to us,” Zahn said. “We’ve been working so hard the past four years. To be in this moment, it’s just so special.”
Wolf Point 62, Columbus 27
Wolf Point had a simple strategy for its State B girls basketball semifinal game against Columbus on Friday.
The Wolves start three players 6-foot or taller, while the Cougars have only three girls taller than 5-6, the tallest being 5-11.
“We said if our size does what it can do, we can be pretty deadly. Then we had some shots falling, too, which was good, too,” said Wolf Point coach Cody Larson. “Both sides, defensively and offensively, I thought the girls played a dang good basketball game.”
Wolf Point dominated from the outset Friday at the Belgrade Special Events Center. The Wolves built a 19-8 lead by the end of the first quarter and rolled to a 62-27 win to punch a ticket to the State B championship against Florence.
Wolf Point’s size created early problems for the Cougars as Imani Bighorn, 6-3, scored 12 first-half points. It was the outside shooting that really made a difference for the Wolves, though, as Mary Bighorn and Mya Fourstar combined to make 6 of 8 3-point attempts in the first half to build a 35-14 lead.
“We’ve always had shooters, so I knew once they started hitting and they start going like that, it goes well for us,” Larson said. “Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy, and (Friday) we weren’t. Good team win for Wolf Point.”
The Wolves poured it on in the second half and pulled away for the lopsided win. Imani Bighorn finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, Fourstar had 17 points, and Mary Bighorn had 14 on 4-of-7 shooting.
Wolf Point’s size was even more evident on the defensive end. Columbus made just 9 of 43 shot attempts (20.9 percent) in the game, and no player made more than two field goals.
“Our team has been working for it. I’m just so excited to be here in this moment,” said Fourstar, who transferred to Wolf Point from Class C Frazer in the offseason. “We’ve been working really hard. All season, this was our goal, this was our big goal, our main goal. I’m just really glad I transferred, not only for ball, but I’m happy to play with a great group of girls that wanted it.”
With the additions of Fourstar and Imani Bighorn, who transferred back to Wolf Point after helping Poplar to the state tournament last year, Wolf Point faced high expectations all season. Those didn’t come without their challenges, as the Wolves worked to build team chemistry and come together.
The bond is strengthening just in time, as Wolf Point will play in the state championship game for the first time since 2004. The Wolves lost to Townsend that year, but beat Fairfield for the 2003 title.
“As the season went on, we just kind of started working together, that chemistry. It wasn’t for a while, but at the end of the season, we’re all coming together and just playing the game that we know,” Fourstar said.
Columbus, meanwhile, didn’t face near the expectations, but the Cougars unpredictably made a run to the state semifinals for the first time since 2002, according to head coach Jeromey Burke. Brenna Rouane, Alexa Riveland and Trista Teeters each scored six points for Columbus on Friday.
The Cougars, who won the Southern B divisional championship, will meet fellow Southern B foe Three Forks in a loser-out game at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Wolf Point will play Florence for the State B championship Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“To be back there again with this group of girls … it means a ton,” Larson said. “It means a ton for the community. Hopefully the whole community comes down (Saturday) and we get a big win.”
Friday loser-out games