There was no mincing of words looking ahead at the Carroll College Saints’ Butte trip Thursday.
“It’s a biggest game of our season,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “Winner gets to host the playoff game. If Tech was to beat us, we’d be turning around going back to Tech next Tuesday.”
The Saints (18-10 overall, 8-8 in Frontier Conference play) and Montana Tech Orediggers currently sit at fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Frontier. The winner of their rubber match earns the right to host a playoff game as the four-seed in the four-five matchup.
Carroll lost in its previous trip to Butte, a game in which playmaking forward Hannah Dean got into foul trouble early and the Saints never found a rhythm, losing 66-55. When Carroll hosted the Orediggers (14-14, 8-9), the Saints only allowed one Oredigger to reach double figures en route to a 65-50 victory.
Dean, who is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds and is second on the team with 70 total assists, figures to play a big role in the Saints' success this time around. Carroll will also look to junior standout Cassidy Hashely, who is averaging 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Point guard Bailey Pasta brings in 10.6 points and leads the team with 78 assists.
“I think our kids are confident,” Sayers said. “We didn’t play well at Tech last time. Hannah Dean was in foul trouble and obviously she’s a key to what we do. It’s important to get off to the quick start and have her in the ball game. I think she is a matchup problem for anybody that we play. That will be the focus, to keep her in the game. I think having her in the game and playing the minutes that she plays is huge for us.”
Carroll has been a rejuvenated team over the past month and change, handling business against Frontier teams and earning a statement upset of then-No. 2 Lewis-Clark State. The Saints have gone 6-3 since Jan. 21, with losses coming to nationally ranked Frontier foes.
“I think it’s been a tough year as far as we’re 8-8 in conference,” Sayers said. “We have 10 losses and nine of those losses have come to ranked opponents. I don’t think people understand the nature of the beast in this conference. It’s not like we’re having a bad year or not playing to our potential. It’s an extremely tough conference, and some of those teams you play twice on the road.”
Part of Carroll’s defensive plan will be to limit Martha Dembek, who is averaging 15.3 points and seven rebounds per contest. The Saints hindered her in Helena, but Dembek scored 20 points against the Saints in Butte.
If the stakes weren’t high enough already, the Saints will be taking on a fresh and focused Montana Tech team. The Orediggers, we well as Lewis-Clark State Warriors, flexed a part of their schedule to set themselves up for a single game in the final week of the season. Both teams only have to worry about the Saints this week.
Carroll on the other hand, has to prepare for two opponents in three days on the road.
“I think the good part about playing both teams is you can kind of prepare for both of them at the same time,” Sayers said. “They are similar in some of the things they do. They depend a lot on transition game and a lot on the 3-pointer game. They keep pressure on you defensively because they play so fast. That allows us an opportunity to not have to reinvent the wheel.”
Though the stakes won’t mean nearly as much, the Saints will be in Lewiston on Saturday with a rematch against the No. 4 Warriors (28-1, 16-1). The Warriors have gone 5-0 since the Saints spoiled their perfect season. Win or lose, the Saints’ Frontier Conference placement will be fully determined by their game against Tech.
The Saints tip off against Montana Tech at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.