BUTTE — Net around her neck and eyes a tad bit red, Lillian Gopher had a smile on her face.
For the second time in school history and the first time in 20 years, the Box Elder girls’ basketball team were Class C state champions. The Bears topped Winnett-Grass Range 52-34 in the title game.
It had been 20 years since the Bears could make that claim. Twenty is also the number the junior guard wears.
“It’s my favorite number, it’s a lucky number,” Gopher said. “It’s been 20 years. Every program during that time, we all worked for this.”
Luck, however, didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. Box Elder took control of the state final early and led by eight at halftime. The Rams were never able to make a run and the Bears cruised to a victory.
That’s not to say it was easy.
“This was a tougher game than the score showed at the end,” Box Elder head coach Joel Rosette said. “This was a tough tournament, I feel like we played all the tough teams. We’ll take the hard way and we couldn’t ask for a better ending against our foes from the north.”
The Bears had to get through the No. 1 seeds from both the east and the west before playing WGR in the finals. The championship was a rematch of the Northern C divisional, which Box Elder lost by nine points to the Rams.
Saturday night was a bit of vengeance and an end to the frustration of the previous two seasons. Box Elder took second two years ago and wasn’t able to make it out of the Northern C during the 2016-17 season.
“It’s huge for our community, Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, Box Elder schools, we get a ton of support,” Rosette said. “The girls have worked hard for this. Last year we thought we could have won this and we weren’t even able to get out of the Northern C.
“This was a big year and the girls wanted to come back even hungrier.”
They certainly did.
After surviving a late run from Twin Bridges in the first round, Box Elder won its final two games by a combined 31 points. Gopher and stretch forward Cecilia Vielle were an important part of the run, using the pick-and-roll to deadly efficiency.
Maddie Wolf Chief added nine points and six rebounds — three offensive — in the final, despite being the smallest player on the floor. In all, it made for a well-rounded team that got production from every player that saw serious time on the floor.
It also made for a special tournament run.
“To have guards that can shoot, people that can get off the bounce, we’re very fortunate,” Rosette said. “They worked at it though. These kids didn’t just show up, a lot of hard work went into this team. I couldn’t be prouder of them to finish this way.”
FROID-LAKE 41, TWIN BRIDGES 34
Sydney Dethman scored 13 points and sunk several late free throws as Froid-Lake survived a late Twin Bridges run to take third-place at the state tournament, winning 41-34.
The Falcons briefly took the lead on a Kailee Oliverson runner with under five minutes remaining, but the Redhawks were able to respond with a four-point spurt. Twin Bridges was held scoreless over the final 1:44, though had several chances to tie the game late.
"We just had to stay the course and keep executing on offense," Froid-Lake head coach Lance Brekke said. "I thought Morgan [Mason] did a good job calling our offenses off the top and executed really well."
Mason had 10 points and five rebounds for the Redhawks and was able to hit shots at critical junctures. Froid-Lake was also able to limit its turnovers to single digits, helping offset a relatively poor shooting night.
The Redhawks shot 36.6 percent from the field, though did hit 6-of-15 shots in the second half. Mackenzie Dethman was the only other Froid-Lake player in double digits, scoring 10 and pulling down 11 rebounds.
"She's awesome in the middle," Brekke said. "Helps hold down that defensive end for us, looks for good scoring opportunities and she's got a lot of great potential."
For Twin Bridges, it's the end of an era.
Oliverson recorded a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. She ended with 104 points during her four games at the state tournament.
Teammate RaeAnne Bendon scored 11. Both are seniors, along with guard Michaela Madden and have been the backbone of the Falcons for the past few years.
They'll leave behind two-straight state tournament appearances, with both ending on the final evening of play. Twin Bridges took third last season, before their fourth-place finish this year.
"Those three seniors are just unbelievable," Twin Bridges head coach Josh Keller said. "All three have special qualities and unique skills. They have great personalities and were just so fun to be around.
"I'm really honor and humbled to have been in a position to be their coach."