Laurel junior Allie McGrath stood clutching the Eastern A girls basketball divisional championship trophy and made it clear the Locomotives want more.
“I think it’s going to be really exciting to see what our team can do,” she said. “We have to get our jobs done. I think people are looking to us for bigger and better things.”
That road to bigger and better things started Saturday night when the Locomotives got 24 points from McGrath and 14 more from Lexi Lewis to claim the divisional championship with a 60-52 win over Miles City at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
The victory gives Laurel (16-4) a chance to defend the Class A title it won last season. Had the Locomotives lost, they would have had to play a challenge game against Billings Central. As it is, the Locomotives can set their focus on the state tournament.
The Cowgirls, too, are going to the state tournament. Their trip was set when Central defeated Sidney in the third-place game earlier Saturday. Because Miles City had beaten Central in the semifinals, the Rams were unable to play the Cowgirls again. So, win or lose Saturday night, the Cowgirls’ first state appearance since 2009 was guaranteed.
“Obviously we were excited, but our main goal was to win tonight’s ball game,” Miles City coach Jacqui Engstrom said. “You know, it’s a sense of relief that you can kind of relax and just play, but we were still focused on the game tonight.”
Ashlie Larson led the Cowgirls with 22 points and had some big shots in the second half as Miles City tried to get its first lead since the first quarter. Each time third-seeded Miles City would creep close, though, the top-seeded Locomotives had an answer.
It was 35-32 after a Shaylee Singleton free throw with just under two minutes to go in the third quarter, but McGrath and Lewis combined on a 7-0 run for a 10-point lead. That was the last good chance the Cowgirls (12-9) had.
“Our biggest thing was to match their energy but keep our poise,” said Laurel coach Amber Griffith, who has taken the Locomotives to four state tournaments in her six seasons at Laurel. “I thought we did an OK job of that. There were moments of ugliness, but a true sign of a champion is if you can gut it out and get the job done.”
McGrath and Lewis combined to go 11-for-18 from the floor, and in her two tournament games, McGrath was 23-for-26 from the foul line.
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Abbie Lohof scored nine points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for the Locomotives, who are division champs despite graduating five senior starters from last year.
“One of our goals from the beginning was to be divisional champs and make it back to state,” said Lewis, who is one of two seniors, along with Dalayna Christenson (6 points) on this year’s roster. “We had our bumps in the road, but once we got that first seed I just think it boosted our confidence a lot more and I think we just knew that we could do it.”
Sounds like it’s time for the Locomotives to reset their goals.
Central 44, Sidney 38
Justyn Juhl had 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Rams (16-5) held off the Eagles for third place.
Central led 35-22 early in the fourth, but Sidney eventually got within 40-38 on a Kortney Mayer free throw with 32.6 seconds left. Juhl and Allie Lucas sealed the win with four free throws in the final 28 seconds.
Lexi Prevost, who will play at Montana State Billings next fall, led Sidney (15-7) with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Sidney reached the third-place game with a 52-28 win over Glendive on Saturday morning. Hailey Steinbeisser had 10 points for Sidney, and Maria Zimdars had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Glendive (4-16).
Central advanced with a 59-56 win over Hardin. All the Rams’ points were scored by three players: Lucas had 27, Juhl 20 and Erika Kuehn 12.
Hardin finished the season 7-13 and was led by Alyssa Big Man’s 24 points.