It was a long time coming, but the Lady Bulldogs picked up their first win of the season in dramatic fashion, taking down Polson 28-26 on day two of the Western A Divisional Tournament last week.
Marlee Bender took over in the paint, starting the game off with eight straight points for Whitefish. She finished with 20 of the team’s 28 points.
Whitefish led 9-1 after the first but Polson came roaring back to cut the lead to 14-11 at half.
The Lady Pirates took their first lead of the game with a Kaeyln Smith layup and-1 off a Whitefish turnover, making it 16-15 Polson with 6:35 left in the third. That lead was cut short by Lauren Schulz, who nailed a three from the wing to put the Lady Dogs back on top. Schulz finished with four points.
Smith nailed another three with 1:45 left to play to tie the score up at 24 apiece, and 20 seconds later she found a hole in the defense for a layup that put Polson up 26-24.
Bender answered with a layup in transition to even the score again at 26-26, and with just 13 seconds remained scored again for the eventual game-winner. Polson had a chance to win or tie with 1.5 seconds left but couldn’t score, and Whitefish finished on top for the first time all season.
“To get a win in the divisional tournament is always pretty big. It was great and fun to be a part of,” head coach Ben Johnson said.
Johnson said he likes to run his offense through the post, and in the case of Bender’s effectiveness, he saw no reason to opt for anything else.
“They weren’t stopping Marlee,” he said. “I always say ‘I’m going to wear the other team out, and if they can’t stop it I’m going to keep going there.’”
The luck ran out on Friday, however, when Whitefish ran into a quick-scoring Hamilton team in another loser-out showdown.
A three from Annisa Brown matched the Lady Broncs’ opening three points early in the first, but the Lady Dogs couldn’t keep up after that. Hamilton finished the quarter on a 9-0 run and a McGill three to open the second put the Broncs securely in control for the rest of the game. Whitefish finished the half down 24-5.
Lauren Schulz led Whitefish with four points and Becca Catina and Brown each added three.
The Lady Dogs also dropped their first game against Stevensville on Wednesday, falling 65-44. Diana Vazquez led the team with 15 points and Bender added 11.
While the overall record doesn’t show it, Johnson said there was a lot of positive progress made on his team during a down season.
“We lost a lot of games, but we had a lot of wins within those losses. We grew a lot as a team,” he said.
Johnson also noted the youth of his team, which only loses one senior, Amara McDaniel.
“My lineup in that tournament was two juniors, two sophomores and one freshman. That’s a pretty young team,” he said. “The future’s pretty bright, as long as they commit to some extra time and working hard we’re going to have a good program.”
Stevensville 9 25 14 17 – 65
Whitefish 11 8 14 11 – 44
Stevensville – Maddie Paul 3, Megan Pendergast 7, Evynne Alexander 13, Angel Richards 13, Haley Kampka 15, Kayla Schmiedeke 4, Makayla Davids 9, Hannah Fry 1.
Whitefish – Lauren Schulz 3, Hope Brown 4, Libby Nagler 2, Bella Wilson 2, Annisa Brown 2, Diana Vasquez 15, Payton Kastella 5, Marlee Bender 11.
Whitefish 9 5 4 10 — 28
Polson 1 10 5 10 — 26
Whitefish — Marlee Bender 20, Lauren Schulz 4, Hope Brown 2, Diana Vasquez 2.
Polson — Kaelyn Smith 10, Lauren Lefthand 6, Quinn Motichka 2, Rhiley Big Beaver 3, Mollie Fisher 4, Mikayla Croft 1.
Whitefish 3 2 4 7 – 16
Hamilton 12 12 6 16 – 46
Whitefish – Lauren Schulz 4, Annisa Brown 3, Becca Catina 3, Diana Vasquez 2, Libby Nagler 2, Kaiah Moore 2.
Hamilton – Mallory McGill 11, Reilly Rostad 8, Lauren Ryter 8, Tessa Della Silva 5, Tristy Searle 4, Ashlee Searle 3, Rachel Ringer 3, Kalian Rocheleau 2, Kara Nye 2.