A streak ended Saturday night – a long, long streak. Not only did the Rocky Mountain Lady Grizzlies break a 12-year losing streak against Lovell, 39-34, they clinched the 2A Northwest Conference title by doing so.
The emotion was written on the faces of the Lady Grizz following the game on senior night as many years of frustration came to an end. Rocky hadn’t defeated Lovell since Feb. 23, 2004, when the Grizzlies defeated the Bulldogs 53-50 in a regional play-in game in Byron.
“Lovell has been such a powerhouse for so many years and a year when you can get away from Lovell is like one of those checklist items you wish for every year,” Rocky coach Eric Honeyman said. “I can’t say enough about Chris Edwards. He gets his girls to play hard all the time. They’re a really good team and he’s a great coach.”
The win improved Rocky to 6-1 in the Five Rivers Conference and 14-5 overall with only a road game at Shoshoni Saturday left on the regular season schedule.
“It was a fantastic weekend for these girls to get a win on senior night and to clinch that number one seed in the conference, something we have not done for about 13 years,” Honeyman said. “A lot of goals have been checked off our list this season and we have plenty more to fulfill. Our ultimate goal is to keep getting better each week.”
It was a classic game between rivals from the get-go. The Lady Bulldogs played much better than they had at Greybull Thursday night, while the Lady Grizz continued their strong play of late. The result was an entertaining game from start to finish.
Lovell started strong and quickly took a 6-0 lead on three-pointers by Mikkel McIntosh and Shelby Wardell, who returned to the Lovell lineup after sitting out the Greybull game due to illness.
“I thought our energy and our passion was where it needed to be for us to be successful,” Lovell coach Chris Edwards said. “As a team we shared the ball better, which brought the camaraderie back among the girls. We made multiple extra passes that led to higher percentage shots, and that led to teammates knowing they trusted them to make plays.
“The crowd and the atmosphere in Cowley was one of the better environments of the year. Both crowds were into it and showed support for their team.”
The Lady Grizzlies responded with a steal and drive by Marissa Arnold, a jumper by Arnold and two free throws by Gabie Christensen to tie the score. After Trysa Flood hit a jumper to put Lovell up 8-6, Rocky outscored Lovell 6-1 down the stretch to lead 12-9 after the first quarter. A fired-up Arnold scored 10 points in the opening quarter.
“I thought Marissa Arnold played just out of her mind,” Honeyman noted.
The two rivals exchanged outbursts in the second quarter. A 7-0 run capped by a three-point play by Christensen put Rocky up 19-9, but Lovell responded with a 6-0 burst to cut the lead to four, 19-15. Rocky went on to lead 23-15 at halftime.
Lovell battled back in the third with an 11-7 advantage. Arnold started the quarter with a trey for the Lady Grizz, but Wardell scored on a transition floater and Mandi Jo Baxendale worked inside for two. Arnold scored again for Rocky, but Lovell outscored the home team 7-2 over the final four minutes of the quarter to cut the deficit to four points at the break, 30-26.
A drive and bank shot by Arnold, an inside move by Melynda Davison and a drive by Summer Johnson around a spinning hook shot by Emily Snell and a free throw by McIntosh lifted Rocky to a 36-29 lead, but Lovell fought back with a 5-0 burst to trim the Lady Grizz lead to two points, 36-34, with two minutes to play.
Rocky worked a minute off the clock, and Lovell had to foul to stop the clock. The Lady Grizz hit three of six free-throw attempts in the final minute, while the Lady Bulldogs could not score again, leaving Rocky with the 39-34 win.
“We didn’t capitalize on all of our opportunities at the rim and at the free throw line,” Edwards said, noting that his squad missed 11 free throws Saturday. “In a game you know is going to be competitive, you talk about winning possessions. You have to win possessions by finishing opportunities.
“I also thought inconsistency in block/charge calls influenced which players could stay on the court and which players couldn’t.”
“Our defense is our pride,” Honeyman said. “Sometimes that defense leads to a good offense. We outscored Lovell every quarter except the third. It was a long, grueling game
“We still have to clean some things up around the post area, but all in all I was very pleased with how hard our girls played. They played with a lot of heart. I honestly think they left everything out there. It was a very physical and emotional weekend for them.”
Arnold led all scorers with 21 points, and Christensen added 8 points, Johnson 6. Wardell and Snell scored 7 points each for Lovell, McIntosh and Flood 6 apiece and Baxendale 5. Snell grabbed six rebounds, McIntosh five. Madison Bryson had four steals, Snell three, and Wardell led the team with three assists.
“Shelby played at about 50 percent,” Edwards said. “I give her credit for trying to gut it out and help her team. Emily’s just a competitor. For her size she’s one of the fiercest competitors on the floor. Even with the loss, a ton of positives came out of this game that will help us right the ship going into the next two weekends.”
For the Lady Grizz, Christensen led the team with five rebounds, and Arnold finished with five steals. Teagan Townsend had three assists.
“It was an overall team effort,” Honeyman said. “It was a hard-fought game. Most of all, I was very impressed with how we came in after Friday night’s very physical battle against Greybull into this very mental game against Lovell. It was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever been part of.
“What changed our culture here at Rocky Mountain is our seniors. They have led the team. They have turned the culture around. They have taught the younger girls how to win. We haven’t really had a senior crew like this for about two years. They have really left a mark on the program for future years. I can’t say enough about the three seniors (Arnold, Summer Johnson and Brickie Durand). They have really taken the bull by the horns. They have molded the team. They have taught the younger girls how to finish a game.”
Shelby Wardell 2 2-2 7, Mikkel McIntosh 2 1-2 6, Alea Mayes 1 0-0 2, Trysa Flood 3 0-0 6, Kaitlyn Mickelson 0 1-2 1, Emily Snell 3 1-6 7, Mandi Jo Baxendale 2 1-3 5, Madison Bryson 0 0-2 0. Totals 13 6-17 34.
Summer Johnson 3 0-0 6, Teagan Townsend 0 0-0 0, Marissa Arnold 9 2-3 21, Maddy Hocker 0 0-0 0, Brenda Timmons 0 0-0 0, Gabie Christensen 1 6-7 8, Melynda Davison 1 0-0 2, Pepper Lewis 0 2-2 2. Totals 14 10-12 39.
Lovell 9 6 11 8 – 34
Rocky 12 11 7 9 – 39
Three-point field goals – Wardell 1, McIntosh 1; Arnold 1. Fouled out – Snell, Baxendale. Total fouls – Lovell 19, Rocky 19.
The Lady Grizzlies will play their final regular season game at Shoshoni Saturday at 12 (JV) and 1:30 p.m. The Grizz edged the Lady Blue Feb. 3 at home, 31-28. Rocky will go into the regional tournament as the top seed out of the west.
As for the Lady Bulldogs, they could finish anywhere from second place to fourth, having to host a pigtail game Monday night. To avoid that they must defeat Shoshoni and Riverside to tie Greybull for second place in the conference at 5-3.
“Shoshoni is playing a solid brand of basketball utilizing their size and their length in their zones,” Edwards said. “We need to take care of both games this weekend and go into Regionals with the confidence we haven’t had for three weeks.”
Friday is senior night for the Lady Bulldogs, with tip-off times set for 4 (JV) and 5:30 p.m. Tap times in Basin Saturday are noon and 1:30 p.m.
By David Peck