BILLINGS — The Carroll College women’s basketball team walked off the floor of the Rimrock Auto Arena solemnly near midnight Friday night.
Some drew tears, others just were astonished at what had happened.
They haven’t lost since the first week of February.
But in the end the Saints just couldn’t stop Oklahoma City during the second round of the NAIA national tournament.
They lost 60-59, in a game that Carroll coach Rachelle Sayers said her team never stopped fighting.
“I’m just extremely proud of this group,” Sayers said. “They gave us everything they had every single day and I’m just sad to know I don’t get to get up tomorrow and coach them.”
Oklahoma City, the runner-up in the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament, arrived in Billings as one of the field’s biggest teams.
It had two players standing at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-2 in the post. Add a swarming 2-3 zone defense for 40 minutes was a combination that gave Carroll some problems.
The Saints were held to just a field goal by junior Christine Denny for the first five minutes until Danielle Wagner hit a 3-pointer from the corner.
It also didn’t help that their leading scorer senior Hannah Dean was forced to sit in foul trouble.
Still after one quarter, Carroll was looking up at an eight-point deficit and only shooting 20 percent from the field.
“We knew they were going to zone. That’s what they do,” Sayers said. “We were prepared but we haven’t seem much zone this year. I think we had to adjust after Hannah got in foul trouble.”
Carroll returned to form in the second quarter as it clawed back and tied the game. It even took the lead when senior forward Dean converted a three-point play, but that was erased minutes later.
The Saints needed to figure out a way to attack the zone, trailing 31-27 at halftime.
“We had to keep adjusting and they are huge,” Sayers said. “Definitely the size bothered us.”
When Carroll returned from the locker room, it knew it came out shooting.
It finished its Frontier Conference schedule making 32 percent of their 3-point shots
Senior Brittney Johnson hit a 3-pointer, followed by Jaidyn Lyman. Even Wagner hit one.
The only problem was that Oklahoma City was answering shot for shot on the other end.
The deepest dagger came with a minute left when the Stars’ Mallory Lockhart hit a 3-pointer to take the lead.
Add another bucket by Abby Selzer with 21 seconds left and the game was nearly sealed.
The Saints had an opportunity to inch closer but a turnover on a misplaced pass was the end to the season.
“ Whether you are a senior or not it was a big game,” Dean said, fighting back the tears. “We battled until the end and I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
Carroll’s two senior starters Dean and Johnson each finished with a game-high 15 points.
Sayers might have been sad with the outcome, but she said it was fitting that they led them down the stretch.
“The make big plays and big shots,” Sayers said. “They have all year.”