A fresh start.
That’s how coaches and players are approaching this weekend’s Central A Divisional tournament for Belgrade.
The Panthers are coming of a tough 6-12 regular season in which they won just two conference games. But both of those victories came against Park High, which Belgrade will battle in a first round game Thursday at 8 p.m.
The two teams met on Feb. 18 in the Panthers’ regular season finale, and Belgrade hung on for a 51-44 victory. The team heads into the postseason on a two-game win streak and with confidence, something sixth-year coach Shanna Smith is thrilled to see.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way that we’re playing. We’re starting to really see some things that I think have been there all year. We had been a couple seconds slow on recognizing them or just haven’t gone up strong. Or we haven’t recognized the situation. However you want to put it,” she said. “We’re starting to see those things now. And I think some players are really starting to hit their potential.”
The winner of Thursday’s game earns a shot at top-seeded Havre (12-6, 7-1), the two-time defending divisional champion, in Friday’s semifinals at 8 p.m.
The other semifinal game features second-seeded Browning (9-9, 5-3) against third-seeded Fergus (6-12, 5-3) Friday at 2:30 p.m. Browning is last year’s divisional runner up.
“I don’t in our minds at all think that we’re out of it at divisionals. I really feel like we’re right in the mix,” said Smith. “If we shoot the ball a little bit better than we have all season, I think we’re right there.”
The Panthers have had some tough offensive performances this season, including shooting a dismal nine percent from the field in a 47-21 loss to Class B Manhattan on Feb. 11. But they closed out the regular season shooting 65.9 percent in a victory against Three Forks and 35.5 against Park.
Smith noted that her players treated both contest as if they were postseason games, thus there is renewed optimism entering the tournament.
“We didn’t have the perfect season of course. But there’s so much to play for at divisionals,” senior Madison Page said. “Going into divisionals, who knows. It’s zero-zero and anything can happen. Nothing that we can’t accomplish.”
Junior point guard Alexis Clingingsmith, who led the team in the regular season with 9.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, agreed.
“Anything can happen at divisionals. It’s a starting over and being that it’s on our home court that might give us the extra advantage,” she said. “We’re sleeping in our own beds. We’re going home to our parents and to our friends and family at night instead of going back to the motel. So we’re really excited.”
The biggest thing the Panthers might have to combat on Thursday is a nine-day layoff. It’s a long break, but Clingingsmith is confident the Panthers will be ready to play against Park.
“I know that we’re going to go hard and that we’re going to be ready for what’s up next,” she said.
Belgrade jumped out to an early lead against the Rangers in its regular season finale, and led by as much as 14 in the fourth quarter before Park rallied to trim the deficit to four. The Panthers would like to avoid that scenario come Thursday.
“We definitely know we need to pressure teams that maybe struggle a little more in the beginning like they were,” said Page. “We need to know that’s our court and when divisionals come just to play our game.”
The top two teams will advance to the state Class A tournament March 13-15 in Great Falls. In order to be one of those teams, the Panthers know they’ll need to be at their best.
“It’s great to have it at home,” 6-foot senior post Tanna Holliday, who leads the team with 8.7 rebounds and 7.0 points per game, said. “It’s going to have to take some upsets to get up there and I have confidence that we’re going to do it.”
Smith feels that her team is peaking entering the divisional tournament.
“If we can turn our two-game win streak into a five game win streak, we’re in great shape. But it’s one game at a time,” she said. “This is the type of team that they not only take it one quarter at a time, but four minutes at a time to the next four minutes at time. Hopefully at the divisional tournament will be able to put it all together and it’ll be our weekend at home.”
Eastern A: Laurel, Billings Central girls look to extend state runs
2014-02-27T00:00:00Z 2014-02-27T00:14:07Z Eastern A: Laurel, Billings Central girls look to extend state runs The Billings Gazette
Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark will again host the combined boys and girls Eastern A divisional basketball tournament, which tips off Thursday.
Teams from Billings Central, Laurel, Hardin, Miles City, Glendive and Sidney jostle for two available state tournament berths on each side.
NO NEED TO REBUILD: Despite graduating all five starters from last year’s state championship team, Laurel still wound up tied with Billings Central for the regular-season title. Balance — four players average between 7 and 14 points – has the Locomotives more than capable of a fourth straight trip to state.
STRIVE FOR FIVE: Central is trying for a fifth straight state trip with four returning starters from last year’s state runner-up team, including the highest-scoring duo in the league. Six-footer Justyn Juhl (15.8 ppg) and 5-6 Allie Lucas (13.7) account for 57 percent of the team’s offense, but the Rams also have a strong supporting cast.
BEWARE OF BULLDOGS: While Miles City and Sidney have recent wins over the top seeds (Sidney defeated Laurel and Miles City topped Central), don’t discount Hardin. The Bulldogs lost 6 of their last 8 games but none of those six losses were by more than four points, and the average margin of defeat in their last four league games was just two points.
Allie McGrath, Laurel: It’s only her first season as a starter, but the junior guard has already earned the reputation as one of the league’s most clutch players. Everyone knows where the ball is going at crunch time (McGrath averages 14 ppg), but she’s still tough to cover.
Alyssa Big Man, Hardin: Just when coaches think they’ve bottled up the 5-11 senior, Big Man still winds up with her 18.6 points. Her soft touch makes her tough to guard on the perimeter, yet she’s elusive enough to get to the basket via the baseline or the wing.
Lexi Prevost, Sidney: The future Montana State Billings player is an obvious scorer (17.3 ppg), but it’s her ability to drive the lane and distribute that makes her a multi-dimensional threat. And all that offense overshadows her solid defensive skills.
GOOD OMEN: Advancing out of the Eastern A is usually a sign that more tournament hardware is in a team’s future. Since 2002-03, the Eastern A representatives at the state tournament have won 16 trophies. There hasn’t been a year during that span that the league has been shut out at state.
ROARING 20s: Breaking the 20-point barrier in a game has been a common occurrence this season. Big Man (8 times), Prevost (7), Glendive’s Maria Zimdars (7, 16.9 points per game) and Central’s Juhl (5) have been the most prolific at it.
IN FORM: So who’s leading the pack over the last 10 games of the season as we head into the divisional? That’d be Laurel, who went 8-2 during that stretch. But Central, Miles City and Sidney are all right behind at 7-3.
Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/sports/high-school/basketball/girls/eastern-a-laurel-billings-central-girls-look-to-extend-state/article_7d945662-5243-5e24-87a5-82bb5759fdf4.html#ixzz2uXKqUOr7