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Charlo to meet Circle for title

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BUTTE - In the first half it looked like the Charlo Vikings were going to run away with it. In the second they stalled, crawled and fiddled away a sizeable lead before finally inching past sprinting Highwood and into Saturday's state championship.

After watching a 12-point halftime advantage evaporate, the Vikings outlasted the Mountaineers 40-39 Friday night at the Butte Civic Center in a Class C girls' state basketball semifinal made classic by the two teams' contrasting styles.

The Vikings (26-1) will face Circle (25-1) on Saturday at

8 p.m. in the title game. Circle downed Chester-Joplin-Inverness 45-40 in Friday's second semifinal.

"Amazing," said senior guard Hayley Carr after the final buzzer boosted Charlo into the title game for the second time in the school's history. "It's a dream come true. This is something that I've been dreaming about since I was little."

Carr led the Vikings with seven points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots, but the dream almost spoiled on Charlo late. The Vikings were perhaps a bit premature in falling back into a spread offense to nurse their lead near the beginning of the fourth quarter.

They were successful in burning chunks off the clock and forcing the Mountaineers to foul, but had trouble converting time of possession into points, shooting just 6-of-14 from the line in the final period.

"We didn't put our free throws in like we should have or it wouldn't have been such a close game," Carr said. "The spread did work because they fouled us, we just didn't make our free throws."

Conversely, Highwood tried to turn the game into a footrace. The up-tempo Mountaineers opened the second half with an 11-4 rush and then whittled away at the Charlo lead, closing the gap to 39-37 with just over a minute to play.

During the final 60 seconds sophomore center Rachel Semansky missed a layup and a trio of free throws, the last of which would've tied the game with 8.5 seconds left. After her final charity shot rimmed out, Semansky had to foul Charlo guard Ma'Rya Hungerford underneath the hoop with 3.1 seconds on the clock.

Hungerford missed both of her free throws but in the ensuing scramble, Highwood was unable to get off a last-ditch shot.

Semansky finished with seven points and seven rebounds.

"That fourth quarter, that was scary," said Vikings coach Bret Thompson. "Normally if we play well early the fourth quarter is money. We got a little tired. Some of that was probably my fault, not using some timeouts to give them a chance to get off their feet a little bit."

The Vikings built an early lead on solid passing, whipping the ball through the Mountaineers' 2-3 zone and finding open shooters streaking to the hoop. Hungerford scored six of her team-high 11 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that stretched the net just as the buzzer sounded to put Charlo up 24-12 at the break.

Stevie Sammons added eight points for the Vikings.

Senior Donnetta Gondeiro kept the Mountaineers in the game early with her jump shot, firing 53 percent from the floor and ending with 16 points to lead all scorers. Gondeiro's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the first quarter trimmed Charlo's lead from five to two, taking some steam out of the Vikings' full-tilt start.

Thompson said his 21 years of coaching won't save him from nerves on Saturday.

"Big time, big time (nerves)," Thompson said. "I'll be nervous for the girls."

He has good reason. Though 1-0 in title games, Charlo's state championship in 2003 came down to the wire, with Crystal Kain hitting a pair of free throws with less than a second on the clock to push the Vikings past Culbertson.

Highwood 8 4 13 14 - 39

Charlo 10 14 10 6 - 40

HIGHWOOD - Donnetta Gondeiro 7-13 0-0 16, Katie Schipf 2-5 3-6 8, Julia Granger 3-7 1-2 7, Richelle O'Leary 0-4 0-0 0, Rachel Semansky 3-5 1-4 7, Katie Bahnmiller 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 15-36 6-14 39.

CHARLO - Stevie Sammons 3-3 0-0 4, Ma'Rya Hungerford 2-7 5-8 11, Amanda Murphy 3-7 0-0 6, Hayley Carr 1-2 5-8 7, Shianne Montgomery 1-3 0-0 2, SamiJo Kain 2-4 2-7 6. Totals 12-26 14-25 40.

3-point goals-Highwood 3-5 (Gondeiro 2-3, Schipf 1-2), Charlo 2-7 (Hungerford 2-5, Kain 0-1, Murphy 0-1). Total fouls-Highwood 20, Charlo 16. Fouled out-Schipf. Rebounds-Highwood 16 (Semansky 7), Charlo 25 (Carr 8).

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