Lady Bulldogs harness ‘post production’ to gain second place in Eastern A divisionals

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Photo by Jim Eshleman

Senior Arena Plenty darts through Havre’s defense Saturday evening during the championship round of Eastern A divisionals in Billings.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Sophomore Ivery Fritzler awaits a ruling by a referee Friday evening after fighting for the ball against a Billings Central Ram.

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Photo by Jim Eshleman

Hardin’s Lady Bulldog basketball team are awarded a second place plaque for their efforts at Eastern A divisionals. Pictured from the left are Head Coach Cindy Farmer, Mashaya Alden, Marie Five, Shaelynn Walks Over Ice, Karissa DuShane, Ivery Fritzler, Sharmayne Hardy, Bergan Real Bird, Aiyana Ereaux, Shea Esp, Julianna Takes Horse, Cailei Cummins, Arena Plenty, McKenna Rivera, Assistant Coach Jonah Red Cherries, LaRae Wallace, and Assistant Coach Alanya Three Irons with her stepdaughter Dallyn Lopez.

Hardin’s Lady Bulldog basketball team is going to the Class A state tournament following tricky semifinal and final matches at divisionals, where shots were scarce and the opposing defenses tight.

Over the course of two tense games in Billings, the Ladies powered through the Billings Central Rams on Friday for a 44-33 victory, but fell short in a matchup with Havre Blue Ponies on Saturday evening with a final score of 34-42. Overall, they placed second in the Eastern A Divisional basketball tournament, held at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.

Upon ending the game with Havre, Hardin guard Sharmayne Hardy said she was happy to be going to state, but didn’t believe the team “came to play.” Hardy said the Ladies could have competed at Havre’s tempo, but the team’s younger players were dealing with “jitters” going into the championship game, as it was something new for them.

They’ll make the necessary adjustments in the week leading up to state, she added.

Field goal percentage was low for the Ladies against the Rams and Blue Ponies – in both cases, the total was 27 percent. According to Hardin Head Coach Cindy Farmer, this percentage “is not where it needs to be.”

An outlier to this overall statistic was post Marie Five – usually more of a supporting player – who was the top shooter for both games. Against the Rams, she shot 18 points and 77 percent of her field goals; against the Blue Ponies, she shot 13 points and 66 percent.

Five, Farmer said, managed to get through the Central defense by “being physical” and “taking it right at them.” In addition to a strong offense, Farmer added, Five maintained a strong defense to keep the Rams’ posts in check.

“We couldn’t get in the flow with our perimeter shooting, but we had really good post production,” Farmer said. “I was really happy about that.”

The deciding factor in the championship matchup were free throws: Hardin scored 6 points of 11 attempts – Havre, with nearly triple the chances to shoot, scored 20 points of 32 attempts. The Ladies were called for 23 fouls, more than double Havre’s 11.

While Bulldog fans at the time were clear on their disagreements with certain calls by the referees, Farmer declined to comment on the topic and instead focused on the team’s future strategy.

When facing Havre’s guards in the future – who Farmer said were the quickest the Ladies have gone up against – her team needs to keep them “out of their tempo and out of their pace.”

“We just have to do a better job of keeping them off the line,” Farmer said. “They only had three field goals in the second half and all the rest were free throws.”

The time leading up to state, scheduled from March 8-10 in Great Falls, also will give injured players time to recover. Hardin post Aiyana Ereaux, who scored 7 points against Havre, sprained her ankle in a collision with a Blue Pony.

Farmer was unsure how well Ereaux would recover in time, but hopes to have her ready “at 90 or 100 percent.”

For senior players including Hardy, Ereaux, Shea Esp, Karissa DuShane, McKenna Rivera, Shaelynn Walks Over Ice and Arena Plenty, the state tournament will be their last days playing as Bulldog basketball players. According to Hardy, she wants to make this time count.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking, knowing that it’s my last year,” Hardy said. “I’ve got to go hard.”

Hardin is set to play Columbia Falls, ranked third in Western A, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in Great Falls’ Four Seasons Arena.