If Saints fans needed a modern rendition of David vs. Goliath, Friday night in the PE Center was surely it.
The No. 2 Lewis-Clark State College Warriors entered Helena with a perfect record, only one of two such teams in the nation to be undefeated entering Friday night.
The Carroll women were a middle-of-the-pack Frontier team, recently stringing together a pair of wins for the first time in a month. Carroll was 1-6 against Top 25 teams going into the night.
The Saints (16-8 overall, 6-6 Frontier) powered by the Warriors in the fourth quarter and held on for a 64-57 win, knocking off the No. 2 team in the country.
“I knew we could do it,” said sophomore forward Hannah Dean, who finished with a team-high 15 points and six rebounds. “We just wanted to have fun for this one. We did. We played hard and we played to win.”
Warriors coach Brian Orr, understandably dejected, pinned the loss on himself after the game. Through a barely audible raspy voice, Orr explained he had not coached the Warriors in practice this week, spending time away from the team as he battled an illness. Orr only rejoined the team at 2 p.m. Friday.
The difference between this Saints team, and the one his Warriors were able to capsize in Lewiston, was their ability to make shots, Orr said.
“Their inside game was going and they hit some perimeter shots,” Orr said. “I wasn’t at practice all week. I feel like I cost us this one. I was sick. I didn’t get here until today at 2. I’m very disappointed. They played great.”
The Saints found offense early against Lewis-Clark State’s 2-3 zone, with Hannah Dean putting in six points off the right block. The Saints took a 13-8 lead after Dean scored her eighth point, a free-throw line jumper. Throughout the night, when Dean operated out of the high post, the Saints offense came to life and got high quality shots.
“I played a lot of high post in high school and with Cassie (Hashley) and (Michaela ) Dowdy are just so good on the blocks,” Dean said. “It’s a role I’ve filled. I’m getting better at making reads up there.”
The Warriors (23-1, 11-1) employed second team All-American Caelyn Orlandi, who looked to be uncontainable at various points in the first half, creating space for pull-up jumpers or distributing off penetration to set up teammates. She finished the first half leading the Warriors in the major statistical categories, scoring a game-high 11 points and adding four assists and three rebounds.
Carroll couldn’t find a similar offensive rhythm in the second quarter, only scoring 11 points. The Saints had quality looks, but just didn’t finish. The Saints hit 12 of 30 shots while LCSC made 14 of 26.
The Saints had lulls where they couldn’t find crevices in the heart of the Warriors’ 2-3 zone. Carroll hit 3 of 10 shots from the three-point line, showing they clearly wanted to beat the zone from the inside-out.
The Saints remedied that in the third quarter, outscoring the Warriors 20-11.
Dean helped the Saints open up their offense again in the second half, occupying the high post and collapsing the Warriors’ defense as she and Hashley commanded attention. The movement allowed Pasta to get a pair of pull-up jumpers in the newly created space against the zone.
Sara Chalich hit a 3-pointer with 3 minutes left in the third to give the Saints a one-point lead. Chalich finished with 14 points, hitting three deep balls and made aggressive plays to the basket to relieve pressure on other Saints.
“She’s been huge,” Dean said. “She’s usually the first person off the bench. The last two games she’s played amazing.”
Chalich and Brittney Johnson also drew the responsibility of chasing LCSC’s talented guards around on defense, a role they both excelled at, though Orlandi did finish with a game-high 16 points.
“Sara and Britt have done such an amazing job because they work so hard,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “You watch them chasing Orlandi around. That’s one of the fastest kids we’ll play against. They had to work their tails off defensively.”
Another Chalich 3-pointer punctuated a powerful quarter for the Saints, as they took a 48-44 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, the Saints could hardly do anything wrong. Carroll handled LCSC’s pressure, used the clock and scored in tight situations. The Saints defense also rose another notch, at one point late in the game stifling four consecutive out-of-bounds plays by the Warriors.
Hannah Dean had to leave the game with three minutes left. The forward who had served as the catalyst against the Warriors’ zone tweaked a back injury and Baylee Watson entered in her place.
“Just a little tweak, a little nagging injury,” Dean said. “I knew I needed 30 seconds and I knew we had a bench to give me a break. Coach trusted our bench when I was ready I was ready to come finish.”
On a free throw rebound a few players later, the smallest Saint came up huge.
Just when every possession felt more important than the last, Chalich secured a missed free throw, tying up a Warrior to force a jump ball and retain possession for the Saints.
Chalich’s all-around game, paired with Johnson’s big shots, made for a well-rounded effort for the Saints.
“At the start of year, we just wore them down defensively and it was like they came down on offense and would take a break,” Sayers said. “We finally hit a point where it was like, ‘We need you guys.’ And they can score. They stepped up and hit big shots.”
Part of their improved play stemmed from a “heart-to-heart” talk Sayers delivered the team after the Saints felt in Northern a few weeks ago.
“(I) said we have to have more production from our wings,” Sayers said. “We have to have more contribution form our bench.”
Perhaps the Saints caught the Warriors on the right week. Perhaps the Warriors caught the Saints on the wrong one. Carroll was a team that put together a strong effort against Montana Tech the night prior, and then carried the momentum over to their win over the Warriors.
LCSC had its first taste inconsistency as the Warriors practiced without their head coach this week. It doesn’t cheapen the Saints’ win any, but it means the Warriors were, at the very least, different in terms of preparation.
Either way, Carroll now has a signature win, one of the biggest wins in Sayers’ tenure at Carroll College. In her sixth season, Sayers recalled the Saints’ defeat of No. 4 and undefeated Westminster during her second season as the only game that compared to what her team was experiencing.
Friday night, the Saints took down No. 2.