DILLON — Brynley Fitzgerald ran the show for the Bulldogs in Wednesday’s Frontier Conference quarterfinal.
Montana Western defeated MSU-Northern 62-48, as sophomore Brynley Fitzgerald led the contest with 24 points and made five shots from the three-point line.
Bulldogs head coach Lindsay Woolley talked about Fitzgerald’s performance.
“She played well,” Woolley said. “She’s playing with a lot of confidence on the offensive end, which is what we need her to do… When she can continue to step up, it gives us a better opportunity.”
The Bulldogs came out blazing, making four three-pointers in the opening quarter as Fitzgerald went four-for-four from beyond the arc in the first half.
Senior Savanna Bignell added another, but the three-point efforts began to dry up as Northern’s defense adjusted and began to close out on Western’s guards.
As the Lights held the Bulldogs to 34.8 percent from the field, as junior Peyton Kehr hit the break with nine points, two steals and a block as Northern sunk their final two baskets of the half to enter halftime up 27-24.
MSU-Northern head coach Chris Mouat talked about his team’s defensive efforts in the first half.
“Sydney Hovde played really hard inside,” Mouat said. “In game like this, it wasn’t single kids. Our defensive effort was great and we came in here dialed in and ready to go. We gave great effort, but we got broken down a few too many times in the second half.”
The Lights did an exceptional job defending in the first half, but Western replicated their hot start by hitting their first three shots of the third quarter to catch Northern off guard and retake the lead.
Northern’s early success in the paint was shut down on the other end, with the Bulldogs limiting Mouat’s team to just six third-quarter points as Western entered the final quarter with an 11-point lead.
Woolley commented on what his team’s mindset was as they entered a third-quarter that needed an improved display from the Bulldogs.
“I don’t think we were connected defensively in the first half,” Woolley said. “In the second half they did a much better job. Rotating to help on penetration, a better job in the post, all-around better at protecting the basket and playing team defense.”
The Lights somewhat recovered from their third-quarter drought, but not nearly enough to escape from the hole they were in, as Western’s offense seemingly matched Northern shot-for-shot throughout the final ten minutes, building on their lead by three points before the final buzzer.
Mouat said that there is optimism going forward despite Northern’s season coming to a close, as the Lights only lose seniors Petra Sellin and Hailey Nicholson this offseason.
“We’ve had some season-ending injuries to good players,” Mouat said. “That hasn’t helped us, but the kids that I have kept rolling and grinding… I’m really proud of them. We have a young group coming back and they’ll get out and get after it.”
Northern was led by Kehr’s 11 points, with junior guard Kenya Lorton coming off the bench for nine points. Hovde totaled eight, and sophomore Allix Goldhahn finished with seven.
Fitzgerald’s 24 saw her finish highest on the box score, while Bignell and redshirt freshman Gracey Meyer both tallied 12 points. Junior Paige Holmes added six to round out the Bulldogs’ top scorers.
Woolley said that his team’s response after a loss to Lewis-Clark State in the final regular season game is what was expected, and that he expects the Bulldogs to bring good energy ahead of their semifinal rematch with the Warriors.
“Our kids are excited,” Woolley said. “They’ll be ready. They’re excited to play one more game on this floor and to get another shot at [L-C State.]”
Montana Western will host L-C State on Saturday in an attempt to make the Frontier Conference tournament final for the second-straight season.