BELGRADE – A sluggish start wasn’t exactly what Jefferson High girls’ basketball coach Karson Klass was looking for when his team took the court for its opening game at the District 5B Tournament on Thursday but the Panthers had Aubrey McMaster to set things right.
McMaster connected on 8 of 13 field goals, and finished with 20 points, leading the Panthers to a 43-33 win over the Whitehall Trojans at the Belgrade Events Center.
The Panthers improved to 3-0 over the Trojans this season but had to scratch and claw their way into Friday’s semifinal showdown against top seed Three Forks.
“We made it very difficult for ourselves but we did what we needed to do,” Jefferson’s first-year head coach Karson Klass said. “We had a slow start and a lot of turnovers. We tried to make the superhero pass but they came through.”
The Trojans came armed with future stars Isabel Evans, a 6-foot-2 freshman, and 5-11 sophomore Dorothy Mastel, and were led by senior Kaya Welch so the Panthers had to make sure to turn in a strong defensive effort.
The teams exchanged field goals in the first quarter, one which saw Jefferson take a 5-4 lead at the first buzzer. The difference in the quarter was McMaster’s 3-point basket.
The Trojans moved in front early in the second quarter, using a 3-pointer by Welch to tie the score, and one by Bryn Welker to take a 10-7 lead.
The Panthers got a whiff of momentum toward the end of the first half, scoring three straight baskets to take a 16-11 advantage into the break.
Welch hit a 3-pointer early in the third quarter to cut the Panthers’ lead to 16-14 but the Trojans couldn’t get any closer.
“There are a lot of people that do a lot of things on the team,” McMaster said. “We definitely need our assists and our rebounds but we just pulled it out.
“I think when we started pressing, we really picked it up. We just got more confident as the game went on. Getting more minutes on the court helped.”
Mastel scored off of an offensive rebound that made the score 22-19 with just under 3 minutes to play but Jefferson used an 8-2 run to close out the third quarter and take a nine-point lead into the fourth.
“It was just a matter of time,” Klass said. “We have five seniors on the team and you hope that they don’t have jitters but there is no way around it.
“We played them twice during the season but this was the first time that Isabel (Evans) and Dorothy (Mastel) got a significant amount of playing time. So they were a better team than what we saw during the course of the season.”
Though disappointed with the setback, Whitehall coach Herman Gerving liked what he saw from his players. The Trojans didn’t quit, and were able to match points with the Panthers despite trailing for most of the second half.
“I thought we did a good job,” Gerving said. “Boulder just had a bunch of good players.
“We had it (the deficit) down to seven but then they had a player (Paige Yanzick) who banked that one 3-pointer and that was the gas coming out of the balloon.”
The Trojans will return to action on Saturday but will have to wait until Friday night to know who their opponent will be. Big Timber and Townsend will play in a semifinal game on Friday night, with the loser taking on Whitehall.
“We were confident but we knew that we had to play hard,” McMaster added. “Whitehall is a good team so we knew that we had to go in there and play our hardest.”
Big Timber 50, Manhattan 34
Emily Hughes and Mesa King scored 13 points each, and Sydney Prather added 12 as the Herders held off the Tigers for a berth in Friday’s semifinal.
Manhattan erased a five-point halftime deficit to tie the score at 17 but Big Timber responded with an 11-2 run that put the game out of reach.
Eight different players scored for Manhattan but none reached double-figures. The Tigers were led by Emma Wass, who scored seven points.
The Herders, who also got 13 rebounds from King, scored 47 of their points in the final three quarters.