Everyone in the Fortin Center knew that when Jill Barta stepped to the free-throw line with 1.8 seconds left in regulation, the Montana All-Stars were going home winners.
That included Wyoming All-Star Julia Seamans, who considers herself an optimist. With Montana’s best player shooting five free throws needing only to make two for the go-ahead points, Seamans thought her team was doomed.
“I’m not going to lie, I try to be a really positive person, but in the back of your mind you’re like, she’s a great player, phenomenal … those free throws probably aren’t that easy,” said Seamans, who had eight points in overtime to spark Wyoming to an 81-75 overtime win on Saturday night. “I mean, those are pressure free throws, they’re hard for everyone. We’re just pretty blessed that she didn’t make them.”
Barta missed the first four but made the last, sending the game into overtime where Wyoming jumped on Montana early and came away with a split in the two-game series made up of senior high school players played on back-to-back nights.
With each Barta miss the large Fortin Center crowd groaned. The Gonzaga-bound star from Fairfield was given five free throws because after Wyoming’s Rachel Erickson was called for a foul on Barta’s 3-point attempt with under two seconds to play, Erickson earned a technical for good measure. Barta smiled after the first couple misses, but as it became more serious, she sank the fifth, knotting the score at 64 at the end of regulation.
To Montana All-Stars coach Brian Henderson, that was the one that counted.
“You miss four? And you have one to tie it and send it into overtime, and you bang that one?” he said. “Nobody’s going to talk about that are they, and I think that’s huge. You missed four. I think it’s a real gamer who steps up and knocks down that fifth one after you’ve missed four.”
Sundance standout Kacie O’Connor led a balanced Wyoming effort with 17 points as the girls from the Cowboy State have earned a split each of the last three years, but still trail in the series 24-12. Natrona County’s Kaylee Johnson, who has a basketball scholarship to Stanford, had 15, as did Cheyenne East’s Erickson. Seamans, another Cheyenne East product, finished with 12, all of them after halftime.
Despite a decided size advantage to Montana – the Treasure State girls had six 6-footers on the roster, one of the tallest teams it’s had in this 18-year series – the Wyoming girls more than held their own.
Montana needed a last-second 3-pointer from Barta to win on Friday night, and on Saturday night, Wyoming outscored Montana 18-9 over the final 6:11 in regulation to give itself a second chance.
“I thought we had grit the whole way,” Wyoming coach Frank McCarthy said. “I thought with the technical … Barta shooting … the kids never seemed to give up. They kept battling the whole game long.”
Barta, who took her first high school varsity loss in her last game after a 104-0 record at Fairfield, led all scorers with 21 points. Helena Capital’s Michaela Dowdy finished with 14 for Montana.