HELENA — Carroll College women’s basketball coach Rachelle Sayers let out sigh of relief following Tuesday’s game against Rocky Mountain.
She just watched the Battlin’ Bears miss a game-tying 3-pointer to come away with a 71-68 overtime victory.
But after nine years of coaching at Carroll she is used to it.
“That’s the Frontier,” Sayers said. “The kids just made plays down the stretch.”
The win gives Carroll a half game lead over Montana Western and Lewis-Clark State atop the conference while also gaining some distance from third-place Rocky Mountain.
Rocky Mountain entered the PE Center for the rubber match between the two teams but hasn't been shooting the ball well.
The Battlin’ Bears sit last in the Frontier Conference in field goal percentage, and it showed throughout the first quarter.
Rocky Mountain made just two field goals over the 10-minute span.
The first came when Destinee Pointer hit a jump shot just inside the 3-point arc.
The second came with 1:37 left in the quarter on a bucket in the paint by Grace Parker.
“Our shots just weren’t falling,” Battlin’ Bears point guard Kloie Thatcher said. “We had open looks, we just couldn’t follow through.”
Meanwhile on the other end, the Saints sped up the offense.
Sienna Swannack scored on a layup, followed by a turnaround jump shot by Taylor Salonen. Christine Denny added a score on an isolation play and Carroll held a 16-10 lead.
Not only was Rocky struggling to shoot the ball, but its leading scorer, senior Markaela Francis was completely shut down.
She finished made just one of her first six shots and pulled down three rebounds.
In the second quarter, however, she found her groove.
Francis has shown this season she has no problem scoring.
She spent her last 14 games scoring no less than 10 points.
So it wasn’t a surprise to Sayers that she scored nine consecutive points, all of which came within just feet of the basket.
“I felt like we worked our tail off to get the ball out (of the paint),” Sayers said. “When a team is going to have that much of an emphasis to get the ball to one person, you can do a great job for 20 seconds and then she will get you in the last 10 (seconds).”
The Saints’ once 19-10 lead turned into just a 23-20 advantage.
That was until Carroll began to take advantage of Rocky Mountain’s mistakes.
A turnover turned into a bucket inside by Emma Madsen and then minutes later she hit a 3-pointer on the wing.
By halftime, the Saints led 35-24.
But Francis would not be stopped and brought her team right back in it.
Rocky Mountain battled back from the double digit deficit and was down by just 49-45 at the end of the third quarter.
The game plan was just feed the ball in the post as Francis finished with a season-high 33 points and 11 rebounds.
“I say give her the ball,” Thatcher said, with a smile. “That’s our go-to person, who is pretty unstoppable.”
Finally, late in the fourth quarter the Battlin’ Bears took their first lead with 21 seconds left.
Instead of taking a timeout the Saints played through and tied the score on a layup by Kamden Hilborn.
A missed shot at the buzzer by Rocky sent the game into overtime.
“It comes down to being in these games,” Sayers said. “We knew we were going to grind it out until we got something.”
During the overtime period, Carroll took the lead on an another bucket by Hilborn and the Saints never looked back.
She, Denny and Wagner each finished with 15 points as the Saints won their second game by less than four points in as many games.
“It was about the hustle plays,” Wagner said. “That was something that we really didn’t do the first two times we played them.”
As for Rocky Mountain, it will return to Billings as it prepares for Montana Western on Thursday.
The Saints will also face the Bulldogs on Saturday in Dillon.
“You have played each other three times so it’s all about showing up and making plays,” Sayers said. “We aren’t going to outsmart Western, it just comes down to who executes their stuff better.”