The Missoula Big Sky girls’ basketball team is starting to soar at exactly the right time.
The Eagles flew away with big first- and third-quarter runs Friday night at Big Sky’s gym to take the Western AA playoff game against Kalispell Flathead, 62-44.
The win marks the navy and gold’s fifth consecutive trip to the state tournament. The Eagles will face Great Falls Russell in the first round of the state tournament in Bozeman on Thursday.
From the tip, Big Sky held the early advantage as it opened the first five minutes of the game on a 12-2 run.
Senior forward Elle Tinkle scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in the first quarter before recording her second foul at the 1:25 mark. Tinkle sat on the bench the remainder of the half, but the Eagles opened up a 16-5 first-quarter lead.
“Elle’s a great player, she does what she needs to do,” Big Sky head coach Marti Leibenguth said. “She picked up the ... fouls early and I had to sit her in the first half. She came out in the second half and she didn’t do too much, she just played great basketball.”
The Eagles followed suit and outscored the Bravettes 21-10 in the third frame. Tinkle scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the period, 10 of which came during a 15-4 run that started at the 4:30 mark.
Tinkle scored on a post move with 2:30 remaining in the third, then to picked off a Flathead pass and draw a hard foul by Tess Brenneman at the other end. She hit both freebies.
After sophomore Dani Baker dropped her second 3-pointer of the night, Tinkle scored another four points. She hit a short jumper after receiving a deep half court pass from Baker and grabbed another steal on the ensuing possession which she took coast-to-coast for two.
Tinkle finished the run and the quarter by finding junior Jesse Schafer underneath the basket for the easy layup, giving the Eagles a 47- 25 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Big Sky took care of business in the fourth quarter and then started the celebration as the student section poured onto the court underneath the west basket to congratulate the state-bound team.
On the east side of the gym, the Flathead girls were left to celebrate the season that was, as they failed to reach the state tournament for a fourth straight season.
Baker was feeling it from the get-go and hit three 3-pointers to go along with 14 points for the Eagles.
“My 3-point shot I wasn’t missing when I was warming up,” Baker said.
Leibenguth praised Baker for her performance, including her five points in the second quarter during Tinkle’s absence.
“She’s playing really well, she’s playing with some confidence and I’m impressed with what she’s doing,” Leibenguth said. “She’s only a sophomore and she’s really stepping up.”
Kendra Joyce added eight points and a team-high five rebounds for Big Sky.
The Bravettes, who finished their season at 8-13, were without their top scorer Emma Andrews, who suffered a concussion in their game against Kalispell Glacier on Feb. 24.
“We definitely missed her, she’s played a lot of minutes throughout the year and we had to adjust a little bit,” Flathead head coach Karli Tait said. “I’m still really proud of our effort, I thought we played hard, we just had trouble scoring.”
Junior Emily Russell scored 12 points to lead Flathead and Brenneman tallied nine points before fouling out.
“She’s a senior that we’re going to definitely miss a lot,” Tait said. “She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached. We’ll miss her.”
Big Sky has now won six of its last seven games with its only loss a 54-42 decision against Missoula Sentinel on Feb. 18. The Spartans are a No. 1 seed at state.
For Big Sky, however, all that matters is that it’s headed to state and surging at the right time.
“I feel like we will do better than we did last year; I feel good about this year,” Baker said.
|FLATHEAD – Emily Russell 4 4-6 12, Brittany Earnest 0 1-2 1, Janessa Heine 2 2-2 6, Tess Brenneman 4 1-2 9, Ashlee O’Dell 2 0-0 4, Malia Ozegovich 0 0-0 0, Cassie Krueger 1 0-0 2, Megan Jones 0 2-2 2, Dani Davis 0 1-2 1, Kelsey Davis 0 3-3 3, Jessika Abbrescia 1 2-2 4. Totals 14 16-21 44.|
|BIG SKY – Hannah Moreau 2 0-0 4, Kendra Joyce 4 0-2 8, Dani Baker 5 1-1 14, Kristen Daugherty 1 0-0 2, Elle Tinkle 10 2-2 22, Mackensie Freeman 0 0-0 0, Kelsey Donnelly 1 0-0 2, Anna Johnson 1 2-3 4, Jesse Schafer 1 1-2 3, Maddy Shaide 0 3-4 3, Athena Farr 0 0-0 0, Sidney Davis 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 9-14 62.|
|3-point goals – Flathead 0, Big Sky 3 (Baker 3). Total fouls – Flathead 11, Big Sky 17. Fouled out – Brenneman. Rebounds – Flathead 29 (Heine 7), Big Sky 26 (Joyce 5).|
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