CASPER – Fresh off a regional championship, the Niobrara County High School girls entered the 2A State Tournament as a number one seed.
Their first opponent Friday morning was an unfamiliar one as the Lady Tigers haven’t faced Big Piney since 1992. The Punchers took the upper hand early with a 9-6 first quarter lead, as Lusk committed seven turnovers.
Lily Krueger sparked NCHS on a 9-0 run with a 3-pointer, and Jozalyn Potter’s nifty layup and ensuing free throw upped the lead. Lusk forced seven turnovers in the period, holding a 22-14 halftime advantage.
Abby Kottwitz had a strong third quarter as NCHS upped the lead to a dozen midway through. Big Piney made a run, but Kottwitz’s rebound and put back at the buzzer moved it to 30-21 with one stanza left.
The Punchers closed within four points with a minute to go but a strong finish helped the Lady Tigers move into the semifinals for the third straight season in the 42-33 win.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
BPHS 9 5 7 12 – 33
NCHS 6 16 8 12 – 42
BPHS: 11/41 FG; 0/6 3PT; 11/23 FT; 36 REB; 14 PF; 1 AST; 19 TO; 2 STL
NCHS: 16/38 FG; 1/12 3PT; 7/11 FT; 37 REB; 17 PF; 12 AST; 20 TO; 14 STL
NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring- Kottwitz 12; Krueger 9; Rowley 8; Richardson 8; Potter 4; Shaw 1. Rebounds- Rowley 11; Krueger 5. Steals- Rowley 6.
Typically, the state tournament is a three-day affair with one game per day for participating schools, but this year’s version was a two-day event. First round winners had several hours to regroup for the semifinals Friday evening at the Ford Wyoming Center. Awaiting the Lady Tigers was Rocky Mountain, who had knocked off Moorcroft.
Riley Shaw got things started for Lusk with a 3-pointer, and despite eight turnovers held an 11-8 lead after the first period. The Lady Grizzlies came back to take a 16-13 lead, but Courtney Rowley’s trey knotted it at 16 with halftime approaching. Rocky Mountain edged ahead in the final minutes for a 21-20 halftime score.
The game featured seven ties and 11 lead changes, but the physical play by the Lady Grizzlies began to take its toll in the second half. Tie scores at 23 and 27 points kept fans on edge as the Lady Tigers failed to capitalize on six Rocky Mountain turnovers. Lusk had a slim 33-31 lead entering the fourth quarter, but it was to be their final one.
The Lady Grizzlies pulled ahead early in the fourth, yet NCHS tied it at 38 with 2:11 to play. A 6-1 run from the charity stripe down the stretch was enough for Rocky Mountain to move into the championship game and send the Lady Tigers into the third-place game.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NCHS 11 9 13 6 – 39
RMHS 8 13 10 13 – 44
NCHS: 13/35 FG; 2/11 3PT; 7/14 FT; 37 REB; 12 PF; 6 AST; 16 TO; 7 STL
RMHS: 17/41 FG; 2/6 3PT; 8/13 FT; 26 REB; 11 PF; 3 AST; 13 TO; 12 STL
NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring- Krueger 11; Rowley 9; Shaw 6; Potter 5; Kottwitz 5; Richardson 3. Rebounds- Kottwitz 8; Richardson 6; Rowley 56.
Facing Sundance for the third time this season, Lady Tigers’ Shaw and Rowley each sank 3-pointers in the first quarter for a 13-7 lead. The Lady Bulldogs came back as shooting woes plagued NCHS. When they tied it at 19, Lusk had seen their final lead vanish and Sundance took a 22-19 edge into the locker room.
In the second half, the Lady Bulldogs could not pull away, but their rebounding margin continued to grow. Shaw splashed a triple to get within 28-26 but Sundance made a 10-3 run bridging the third and fourth quarters. As desperation time became shorter and shorter for the Lady Tigers, Sundance was able to fend off every attempt from NCHS. The Lady Bulldogs captured the third-place trophy in the 46-41 final score as Lusk finished fourth for the third straight season.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NCHS 13 6 9 13 – 41
SHS 7 15 12 12 – 46
NCHS: 9/30 FG; 3/12 3PT; 14/27 FT; 31 REB; 21 PF; 11 AST; 6 TO; 5 STL
SHS: 16/43 FG; 5/15 3PT; 9/20 FT; 41 REB; 19 PF; 12 AST; 10 TO; 1 STL
NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring- Rowley 13; Shaw 10; Krueger 7; Richardson 5; Bruch 2; Larson 2; Kottwitz 2. Rebounds- Rowley 8; Richardson 7. Assists- Shaw 5.