LAUREL — An hour before the bus left Saturday morning, Kayla Kombol was already stationed at the Melstone gym shooting free throws in preparation for the Southern C girls championship game.
Perhaps Kombol, a junior guard, had a premonition. Or perhaps she just knows the value of being ready for any given situation.
Whatever the case, it was Kombol’s calm demeanor at the foul line in the fourth quarter that allowed No. 8 Melstone to capture the division championship with a 34-27 victory over Jordan at the Laurel gym.
Bridger captured the boys title with a 65-50 victory over Broadus in the nightcap thanks to a big third-quarter run.
Kombol made 9 of 11 high-pressure free throws within the final five minutes of a close game to help give the Broncs the edge even though they went without a field goal in the last 6:11. Kombol swished both ends of bonus foul shots with 3:01 to go, which gave Melstone a 25-21 lead and the Broncs never trailed again.
The Broncs now march on to the Class C state tournament, which will be held in Lockwood in two weeks.
“I knew I had everyone counting on me,” said Kombol, who scored all of her points from the stripe in the fourth. “My team knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it.”
“She’s been preparing for that all year,” Melstone coach Ole Eike said. “It didn’t surprise me that she was ready for her opportunity because I see it every day. She deserves it. She’s just that kind of a kid.”
The Broncs captured the division title despite the loss of standout guard Draya Wacker, who tore the ACL in her right knee during a game on Jan. 30. Wacker, a junior, was the state’s leading scorer at the time of her injury, averaging 25.1 points per game. On crutches, she was given a big ovation when she was introduced with her teammates before the game.
Melstone regrouped over the course of the past month and made do with what it had. Avery Eike, an eighth grader, scored 11 big points against Jordan, and Koye Rindal hit three 3s and finished with nine points. Leni Krehbiel pulled down six rebounds and made a number of key defensive plays to thwart Jordan.
“The first thing was we had to believe,” Ole Eike said. “Draya is so good that she’s going to get all the attention, and rightfully so. So those other girls maybe get overlooked a little bit. Honestly, I think some of them took that as a challenge. And we used that as motivation.
“For us to be in the position we are without Draya … I love these kids. It’s hard to put into words. It’s very emotional, for sure.”
The Mustangs were playing without Brenna Murnion, who injured her knee in the semifinals on Friday. Tori Murnion was also out due to an injury she sustained earlier in the year. But coach Tracy Kamerman had her team motivated, too.
Jordan lost two regular-season games to Melstone by large margins but was in the lead at halftime after Brooke Murnion scored high off the glass and when Abby Pierce scored on a feed from Murnion inside. Pierce led all players with 13 points and also grabbed nine rebounds, but the Mustangs couldn’t find their scoring punch in the waning minutes.
Despite the loss, Jordan ended up clinching a berth to the state tournament by virtue of a semifinal win over Ekalaka on Friday. The Mustangs won’t face a challenge game.
“We battled through it and we improved tremendously,” Kamerman said. “In the next week or so we’ll refocus and get right back to it. We’re going to compete and try to win and not just show up.”
Scouts make their run
Bridger’s boys made a big third-quarter splash — several, in fact, in the form of long 3-point shots — to gain enough separation to outlast Broadus to win the Southern C boys crown.
Lucius Payovich scored nine points in the third to help turn a two-point advantage into a 13-point lead by quarter’s end. Chance Goltz, Cooper Frank and Payovich (twice) all hit deep 3s during the flurry.
With the victory, No. 7 Bridger stretched its unbeaten record to 20-0 and sewed up a berth in the state tournament.
“We picked up our defense, started knocking down shots and went on our run,” said Payovich, who finished with 10 points. “Coach gives us the green light if they’re good shots.”
He added with a grin: “Just make sure they go in.”
They did, and the Scouts stole the momentum after halftime. A two-handed dunk by Baylor Pospisil with 4:30 left gave them a 52-39 lead and served as the proverbial dagger as Bridger’s fans went wild.
Goltz hit four 3s and led Bridger with 16 points. Pospisil had 13 and Cooper Frank added 11. The Scouts led by as many as 15 in the fourth.
Dillon Gee had 16 points for Broadus, which will next face Melstone in a Southern C challenge game on Monday at 6 p.m. in Miles City for the right to go to state.
Marcus Mader had 14 points and nine rebounds to aid the Hawks. Wyatt Gee finished with 13 points and eight boards.