Basketball on basketball court stockimage

MISSOULA — There was chaos late in Saturday's game between the No. 3-ranked Bigfork girls and No. 10-ranked Loyola Sacred Heart at the Sister Rita Activity Center.

And that's exactly what the Valkyries wanted — their coach actually called for the defensive play.

"We weren't planning on running 'Chaos' — it's kind of been our bread and butter all year — but it's nice to have in your back pocket," Bigfork coach Jami Grende said of the three-quarter court pressure defense. "When it got tight, we needed to pull out the chaos."

That late stand from Bigfork (11-1 overall) helped the Vals come back to top the Breakers 58-54, besting Loyola's own stalwart defensive effort.

In the fourth quarter, though, it was Bigfork's go-to scheme that wreaked havoc when it mattered most.

With the score tied 40-40 at the start of the final period, Bigfork junior Rakiah Grende took away Loyola's opening possession. She jumped a passing lane and tore off down the court. 

Rakiah finished in transition with a smart jump stop that sent the Loyola defense flying by. From there, she canned the easy bucket to put the Valkyries ahead, 42-40.

They would never trail again.

"That's what we needed; we needed some momentum. We were a little flat there for a while," Coach Grende, and Rakiah's mom, said. "... (Rakiah) made them when it really mattered."

Bigfork forced another steal on Loyola's ensuing possession. This time it was Ellie Berreth who came up with the theft, though Grende again scored in transition. She finished with eight points, six coming in the pivotal fourth quarter.

In all, the Vals forced 10 Loyola turnovers in the final frame, and Bigfork held Loyola to just one point in the game's last 2 minutes, 10 seconds. Bigfork senior (and recent Montana Tech signee) Jaime Berg had three steals herself in the concluding stretch.

"We just fly around, we're never standing still, we're always flying around trapping the ball — it's just chaotic," said Berg, a 6-foot, double-double nightmare at the Class B level. She finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday.

Bigfork's fortifying finish practically mirrored Loyola's shutdown second period. The Breakers (8-4) forced 10 turnovers of their own in the frame, and they built a 26-22 halftime lead.

Loyola senior Kylie Esh — whose rendition of the national anthem evoked a spirited response from the packed crowd before the game — had five of her nine points in the second quarter. Syd Koppang added six more as the Valkyries tried their best to deny all-state guard Tessa Burke from getting the ball.

But Burke broke through in the second half. The senior scored 20 of her 26 in the final 16 minutes. Burke's last basket was a left-handed teardrop in the key that pulled the Breakers within two, 55-53, with 2:10 remaining.

"Tessa's very special. What she does, not just scoring, rebounds or assists, but just being the player and team leader she is. She's a great girl, and she needs to go play (college basketball) somewhere," Loyola coach Travis Walker said.

Burke, who said she's still keeping her options open for college commitment, fouled out with 44 seconds remaining, apart of the 41 combined fouls between the two teams. The senior left to applause from both Loyola and Bigfork fans.

From there, chaos — that is, Bigfork's defense — ruled the day.

"We talk about peaks and valleys in game and we gotta have one more peak than there is valley," Walker said. "We found a little valley at the end there and we couldn't quite get in the four-wheel drive and get out of there fast enough.

"... All in all, I couldn't be prouder of the girls, though. It stings for them, but we're not peaking yet. We're still climbing."

Bigfork boys 61, Loyola Sacred Heart 51

The Loyola Sacred Heart boys had a furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt of their own, but the No. 8 Rams fell to Bigfork, Class B's top-ranked team.

Loyola's Jack Lincoln and Scotty Twite each scored 17 points to pace the Rams; nine of Lincoln's points came in the fourth quarter.

"Lincoln just started doing his usual thing and started pouring in buckets, that was helpful," Loyola coach Eddie Stack said, as his squad outscored Bigfork 22-13 in the final frame.

Twite had a pair of triples in the closing frame which cut the Rams' deficit to just six with about a minute remaining, according to coach Stack.

But early foul trouble — Loyola finished with 22 fouls — paid dividends for Bigfork, which held on.

"Bigfork, they kind of just did their thing," Stack said. "We got frantic in the fourth quarter and made some good headway and had a little success, but they're a pretty stable team, they don't get to high or to low."

Anders Epperly powered Bigfork's offense with 18 points, while Logan Gilliard pitched in 14 more at a boisterous Sister Rita Activity Center.

"It was buzzing in there. There wasn't a lot of oxygen in that gym.," Stack said. "It was a great environment, they're a great team and tons of good plays from all the guys."

Both the boys and the girls will meet again for a makeup game on Feb. 16 in Bigfork after weather wiped out a matchup scheduled for earlier in the season.

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

Load comments