MISSOULA — The Loyola Sacred Heart girls' late fourth-quarter surge wasn't enough to capture the win from District 6-B leading Florence, as the Falcons held on for the 64-60 victory.
But for a packed Sister Rita Mudd Activity Center on Saturday, it sure was a fun first game of the rivalry doubleheader.
Before the Loyola boys bested Florence 77-39 in the nightcap, the Breakers and Falcons found themselves in a two-possession game with 2 minutes left on the clock. It was Loyola's Lani Walker who trimmed her team's deficit to four points, 59-55, after scoring at the basket and drawing a foul.
Walker completed the old-fashioned 3-point play, and the Breakers were as close as they had been since the second quarter.
"We have so many people that believe in each other, so it makes it easier," Walker, who scored a game-high 22 points, said of the positive energy she was receiving from her teammates in the comeback try.
But the Falcons, who led by as much as 16 early in the final period, hunkered down when they needed to.
Senior guard and MSU-Billings recruit Danielle Zahn answered Walker's 3-point play on the next possession with a slash and nifty behind the back pass to 6-foot-2 center Joey Janetski. Janetski scored to complete the play and Florence's lead was extended, 61-55, with 1:50 remaining.
Janetski scored 16 points, and handful of her six buckets were assisted by Zahn.
"Every time I go to the basket, if I don’t have a layup I’m always looking for Joey on that block," said Zahn, who added 13 points in the win. "Especially against Loyola, they don’t have a lot of height. Joey’s a tall girl so we try to use her to our advantage."
The Breakers (3-3 in conference, 8-4 overall) didn't relent, though, as Walker hit a pair of free throws and Sam Clevenger, who finished with 11 points, connected on a late 3-pointer to again pull Loyola within four, 64-60.
But just 3.7 seconds remained, giving the Falcons (4-0, 9-2) an ally with the clock.
"Our last really tough game we had where it was real close like that at the end was Loyola," Florence coach Duane Zeiler said, referring to the matchup on Dec. 11, where his Falcons emerged with a 56-49 win. "We gotta go back now and work on some things. Taking care of the ball at the end of the game.
"...But all in all, we're resilient. They’re tough and they hung in there."
That resiliency included standout efforts from Rilee Mangun who finished with 21 points. She was 3-for-4 shooting free throws in the fourth quarter.
Florence junior Emma Stensrud also was a perfect 4-for-4 shooting free throws in the fourth quarter and was 6 for 7 from the line in the game.
"Even if (Emma and Rilee) would have only been 80 percent — which is a high number — that would have made all the difference in the world right there in the end," coach Zeiler said. "It’s crazy how close that is. They shoot a lot of free throws every day in practice and fortunately it worked out today."
Loyola boys 77, Florence 39
The Falcons tried to slow Loyola's uptempo offense with a deliberate attack, but the Rams ultimately broke through.
And big 3-pointers from senior Charles Burns were the catalyst.
Burns, who had a game-high 19 points, hit two corner 3-pointers in front of a feisty Florence student section and gave the Rams an early 6-0 lead midway through the frame.
The senior guard was just as quick to deflect praise, too.
"It all starts from opposite sides of the court. We get it down low, and it opens opposite sides of the court as the defense helps over," Burns said. "It’s my teammates finding me. They’re easy threes, and that’s all from my teammates finding me from the other side of the court, so all credit due to my teammates."
Burns teammates no doubt helped, as Loyola's inside attack led to 26 offensive rebounds, according to Florence coach Caleb DeGroot. Senior forward Jack Lincoln scored 11 points and junior post Liam Haffey added nine more off the bench.
"If you watched (the game), it was volleyball out there half the time," DeGroot said of the tipped basketballs and offensive rebounds Loyola recovered. "Anytime you play a team that gets twice the possessions you do, it’s always difficult to win, unless you’re on fire."
The Falcons had some flashes. Zach Christopherson connected on an early 3-pointer to counter Burns early barrage and make it 6-3 with 3:50 to play in the opening frame. Jacob Round, who led Florence with 10 points, also added a 3-pointer in the opening quarter to pull within two points, 8-6.
But the Rams got into their tempo offense from there and scored 50 second-half points to run away with the conference win.
"I thought (we) did a good job of building a slow lead and then you get to a point where it’s not an option to slow down anymore and everyone has to get up and down and make it a game," Loyola coach Eddie Stack said.
The Rams will take it slow Monday, getting the day off after two impressive conference wins in two days. Loyola (6-0, 10-2) draws Bigfork (11-1 overall) in a marquee matchup next Saturday.
Florence fell to 0-4, 2-9 with the loss.