The difference in the 1A girls basketball state title game was simple: shots were falling for the St. Paul Buckaroos and not for the Powder Valley Badgers.
St. Paul shot 50 percent in the first half to build a double-digit lead, and 43 percent for the game, to top Powder Valley 49-32 Saturday night at Baker High School.
“We just couldn’t get anything to drop, especially early,” Powder Valley coach Allen Bingham said. “We had really good looks — things that normally drop down — and they just didn’t. We dug ourselves a hole.”
The Badgers had several shots bound away, rim off or even rattle out during a first half that saw them shoot just 21 percent. Powder Valley, in fact, went more than half of the first quarter without scoring until Logan Nedrow’s steal and layup got the Badgers on the board. Belle Blair’s 3-point play moments later knotted the score at 5-5, and Megan Bingham beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer to keep the Badgers within 9-8.
But the Buckaroos heated up in the second quarter, using a 14-2 run to take control of the game. Erin Counts and Karlee Southerland hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 17-9 lead, and two Counts free throws put St. Paul ahead 25-11 late in the second. The Buckaroos shot 64 percent in the period.
The Badgers cut the gap to 27-15 at halftime, and three times inched as close as 10 points in the third, the last on a Bingham 3-pointer to get to 32-22. A 9-0 Buckaroos’ run, though, boosted by 3s from Counts and Isabelle Wyss, extended the margin to 41-22 early in the fourth and put the game out of reach.
“I think we were a little nervous,” said Megan Bingham, who along with Blair scored 10 points to lead the Badgers. “It was an exciting environment. I think we were ready to play, but it just wasn’t falling tonight.”
Counts scored 14 points to lead St. Paul, which wrapped up a perfect 30-0 season. Wyss had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Emma Connor scored 10 points.
While disappointed about the title game setback, Badgers’ players and coaches said they were proud of the effort to reach the championship game, which was the first time the program reached the finals since winning it all in 2006.
“This doesn’t happen very often that you’re in the title game, even if you get beat,” Allen Bingham said. “I told them there aren’t very many second place trophies or first place trophies. (We’re) pretty fortunate to have the opportunity to do it.”
The run to the final came in a season that, at the start, many believed could have been a down year after the team lost four seniors from last year’s squad that finished third in the state.
“No one really thought we were going to get this far,” Blair said, adding later that it was “a big thing” to be playing in the championship.
“Second in state is pretty good. I’m happy with it,” she said.
It was the second time in four months St. Paul and Powder Valley met in a championship, with the teams also facing off in volleyball in November, a title match also won by the Buckaroos.
Megan Bingham said, though, said the expectations during volleyball were different — and higher — than in basketball.
“In volleyball we were expecting ourselves to get that far,” she said. “We knew that we were good and that we could go super far, but in basketball we lost four or five huge players, and we were like, ‘this year is going to be a rebuilding year, we’re not going to be as good.’ I think toward the end of the year we surprised ourselves. We were glad we made it this far.”
The team’s growth, particularly on the defensive side, was one of the keys to making the unexpected deep run and a 26-4 final record — 25-0, in fact, in games where the Badgers allowed 40 points or less.
“I thought we could be a good competitive team and have a chance to make a run, but to get to the title game (considering) the competition that is around the state (means) we developed as a team really well,” Allen Bingham said. “They bought into that defense and just won us a lot of basketball games.”
POWDER VALLEY (32)
B. Blair 4 203 10, M. Bingham 4 0-3 10, Nedrow 2 0-3 4, E. Orr 2 0-0 4, Krieger 1 0-0 2, S. Blair 1 0-0 2, Cole 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0, S. Orr 0 0-0 0, K. Bingham 0 0-0 0, Leggett 0 0-0 0, Seikman 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 2-9 32.
ST. PAUL (49)
Counts 4 4-4 14, Wyss 4 4-7 13, Connor 4 2-2 10, Hernandez 2 1-2 5, Southerland 1 0-0 3, Tuck 1 0-0 2, Vela 1 0-0 2, Nicklous 0 0--0 0, Vargas-Ayala 0 0-0 0, Gonzalez 0 0-0 0, Diaz 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 11-15 49.
Powder Valley -8 7 7 10 — 32
St. Paul 9 18 12 10 — 49
Three-point baskets — M. Bingham 2, Counts 2, Southerland, Wyss. Fouled out — Nedrow. Total fouls — Powder Valley 16, St. Paul 10. Technicals — none.