On Thursday, the Lady Trappers fell 74-70 to the Lady Cougars, who went on to win the tournament while playing on their home court in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
“First of all, (I’m) extremely proud of this team and how they finished the year,” said NWC head coach Janis Beal. She noted how her squad went to Casper and rallied to win in overtime there to just make the regional tournament.
“And then going and playing Western Nebraska on their home floor, I’m just proud of how hard the girls played,” Beal said.
It was a marked improvement from earlier in the season, when NWC was thumped by Western Nebraska, 93-59.
“To go in December and lose by 35 points and to be able to come into a game a couple months later and go to overtime with them, I think just shows a testament to our girls and how much they’ve improved and continued to work this season,” said Beal.
Last week, Western Nebraska hit a 3-point basket on its first possession, but “the first quarter was kind of ugly on both sides,” Beal said.
The coach said she thought the Lady Trappers — and possibly the Lady Cougars — felt a little bit of nerves of playing in the Region IX tournament, where a single loss ends a team’s season.
“There were missed shots on both sides that were good looks,” said Beal. “But I think the tournament atmosphere kind of gets to you a little bit”
She added that, “It’s almost like a boxing match, of kind of who’s going to do what, how are we going to respond before you get into a flow of a game.”
Western Nebraska built a 10-4 lead in the first quarter.
“We got down and just didn’t quit,” said Beal.
NWC freshman Mattie Creager opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer and, with about five minutes before the half, the Lady Trappers tied the game at 15. NWC went up 17-15 with 3:30 left. Western Nebraska briefly regained the lead with a three-point play, but NWC closed out the half on a 9-4 run to lead 26-22.
“Our girls kept playing and kept battling to go into halftime with a lead,” said Beal. “Just proud of how they didn’t get down (and) just continued to play hard and compete.”
The Lady Trappers kept playing hard in the third quarter, but the Lady Cougars scored a flurry of points in the final 1:07 to put the Trappers down 45-39 going into the fourth quarter.
But the NWC women rallied again. Two free throws from freshman Julynne Silva tied the game at 55 with about three minutes left in regulation; less than a minute later, Silva added a 3-pointer to put the Lady Trappers up 58-57.
Western Nebraska made a 3-point basket of its own to take a 60-58 lead with 1:38 left on the clock.
NWC tied things back up at 60, but with 3.1 seconds remaining, Western Nebraska hit two free throws to pull ahead, 62-60.
After the second free throw, NWC called a timeout.
Beal said many factors determine which play she’ll call, but “we just kind of went with a, ‘hey we’ve ran this play before, we got a great look out of it, we are going to knock it down this time.’”
From in front of the Lady Trappers’ bench, Dani McManamen inbounded the ball to fellow freshman Dallas Petties underneath the basket. Petties sank her shot to tie the game at 62, forcing overtime.
NWC jumped out to a 64-62 lead on a basket from McManamen, and a 66-64 lead on a coast-to-coast bucket from freshman Domenica Gomes, but Western Nebraska answered and built a 70-66 lead.
With under a minute left to play in overtime, sophomore Jessica Lohrenz sunk a basket to pull the Lady Trappers within two, 72-70. NWC immediately came up with a steal, but Petties was tripped up trying to go inside and the ball bounced out of bounds, giving possession to Western Nebraska.
They sank the final basket of the game with 21 seconds left, for a 74-70 win.
“It was a game where there’s times where you can do everything and you can play hard, but the ball just doesn’t bounce your way — and I felt like we had a couple of those situations in this game,” said Beal. “It just wasn’t meant to be, apparently. We could have shot free throws better, we could have taken care of the ball a little bit better, but overall, we really did a great job of just competing the entire game”
Northwest shot 56.5 percent from the free throw line while Western Nebraska shot 82.4 percent. But NWC shot better from the field and at 3-point baskets than Western Nebraska, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from the arc; Western Nebraska shot 40 percent from the field and 25 percent from the arc.
NWC turned the ball over 29 times but also forced 20 turnovers.
The Lady Trappers out-rebounded the Lady Cougars 44-34.
“We definitely, as the game went on, I thought we did a better job of rebounding,” said Beal.
Silva led the team with a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Petties scored 13 points and sophomore Jessie Lessard scored nine.
McManamen had eight boards, six on defense and two on offense.
“It was a fun game to coach and be a part of,” said Beal. “Of course, you know we would have loved to continue and be able to keep playing. And that’s the sad thing, is I feel like we were really starting to come on with this group at the end and they are a fun group to coach and we would have loved to continue to be able to play and practice and keep playing as a team.”
“It came to an end too soon,” the coach said.
The loss not only ended the season for the Lady Trappers, but for four sophomores as well, Lessard, Lauren Hinckley, Jessica Lohrenz and Maddy Johnson.
Beal said that Lessard, who is from Yoder and had transferred from Eastern Wyoming, “was the glue that kind of kept us going.”
Beal added, “It’s one of those things where I wish we could have her for two years instead of just one.”
Hinckley is from Lovell.
“I just felt like she did a great job of doing whatever we needed whenever we needed. Sometimes the shot wasn’t falling but she found a way to help us in a different way,” said Beal.
Lohrenz, from Littleton, Colorado, had a torn ACL last year and wasn’t able to play. Beal said it was exciting to have her back, describing her as a player who was willing to sacrifice her body by taking a charge and who provided needed toughness to the team.
Of Johnson, Beal said she is “just a great teammate and what a true Trapper is. Sometimes she didn’t get a lot of minutes, but she’s the first on the bench to be cheering and being excited and she’s a huge part of our success just by her attitude and willingness to do whatever.”
Johnson is from Boise, Idaho.
With four sophomores graduating, that leaves 10 freshmen on the roster. Nine may return next year, as Aubrey Payne from Molt, Montana, is in her second year academically and will graduate this spring.
Payne had a season full of injuries, but Beal said she always encouraged her teammates; “she was always there to do something for her teammates.”
Beal added that the true testament to what Payne meant to her teammates came in a game against Little Big Horn, where she scored three 3-point baskets and had the bench erupt with excitement with each one.
“It’s been a really fun group and very proud with how far they’ve come and I was blessed to be able to coach them this year,” said Beal, adding, “I think the future is bright.”
Beal said the freshmen got a lot of experience this season and will go into next year with more experience than most sophomores. There were many times this year when NWC had five freshmen out on the court.
“To look and see and if we can build on where we’re at right now and just continue to build from there with our freshmen, our possibilities are endless for next year,” Beal said.