Every week in the Frontier brings a mix of high competition and heated rivalry.
This week, with Montana Tech coming to town, the rivalry intensifies a bit more.
“I definitely think that Tech comes in here with an extreme desire to beat Carroll,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “It’s a big game; it’s a rivalry game. All of us are fighting for the same thing right now. It’s a tremendously competitive league. I think that team that gets to the loose ball and gets to the long rebounds, executes under distress, that’s the team that's going to come out ahead.”
Carroll brings the No. 3 defensive rebounding (30) unit in the nation to the court, coupled with the No. 6 defense in points allowed (55).
Last week, The Saints had chances to knock off No. 11 Montana-State Northern in Havre, but fell short, 47-43. The Saint did bounce back to knock off Great Falls 55-43 to round out the week with a 1-1 record.
Tech beat Carroll 66-55 in Butte, a game Sayers said the Orediggers were simply too physical for the Saints, pinpointed by the the fact Tech outrebounded a much larger Carroll College team.
In that meeting, Martha Dembek, who had been honored before the game for scoring her 1,000th career point, had 20 points. Tech would outscore Carroll 34-24 in the second half as the Saints limped to the final buzzer.
Dembek will be a threat again. She enters the game averaging 16.48 points and 6.57 rebounds per game. Also scoring double digits for the Orediggers are Monica Landdeck (11.8) and Hattie Thatcher (11.7).
“It’s hard because obviously you don't want people to get hurt, but you want to understand the type of focus they have to bring Thursday night,” Sayers said of simulating the type of competition they will face this week. “I think our kids understand the implications of this game and how important it is to play well especially when you turn around. It’s nice to get that first one, you feel more confident to play the second night. It’s difficult. You want to make sure we’re ready. You want to make sure we’re ready to be fresh.”
The Orediggers also own the No. 5 mark in the nation in free throw percentage, (75 percent) and No. 8 in 3-point percentage, 36 percent.
Junior forward Cassidy Hashley continues to be the engine the Saints’ other parts harmonize around. Hashley averages 15.36 points and 9.59 rebounds per game. Point guard Bailey Pasta picks up a lot of scoring responsibility, scoring 10.8 points per game to give the Saints a respectable in-and-out combo on the perimeter.
Sophomore forward Hannah Dean also commands a ton of attention, as she averages 9.6 points per game and 7.4 rebounds, while also being a viable threat as a passer for the Saints. Her 57 assists are second only to Pasta’s 60.
On Friday in a back-to-back game, the Saints host No. 2 Lewis-Clark State College (23-0, 11-0).
“We really don’t concern ourselves with the second night,” Sayers said. “The most important part of the game is the one we’re playing in. They’re used to practicing back to back days. We do it a lot in the preseason. We worry about the first one. We put all of our focus into Tech.”
The Warriors, quite simply, are exceptional. They rank No. 1 in assist-turnover ratio, No. 2 in scoring margin, No. 2 in 3-point percentage, No. 2 in total assists, No. 2 in total scoring, and on, and on.
Brittany Tackett leads the Warriors with 15.09 points per game. Caelyn Orlandi brings 13.8 points and 4.3 rebounds and Natahnee Spencer brings 10.4 points. Really, the Warriors go eight players deep, all as scoring threats.
If you had a microscope to pick nits, Lewis-Clark State College has won its last two games by 10 points or fewer. Rocky Mountain gave the Warriors a challenge last week before losing by 10, and No. 25 Montana Western took the Warriors to overtime in Lewiston before falling 63-58.
The Saints had found some consolation in their first loss to Lewis-Clark State College. The Saints stayed with the Warriors, trailing 39-30 into the fourth quarter before finally succumbing to the depth and power of LCSC. The Warriors did come away with a 57-42 win, but the Saints held the heads up up after the loss.
“I think we made some defensive mistakes down the stretch,” Sayers said. “We had a great effort early on, we chased them off the three point line. Didn't give up a three. Kept them in check in transition. They play a ton of zone you have to be able to make shots and rebound in that zone. In the fourth quarter didn't knock down shots that we did knock down earlier on.”
Friday will show if the Saints can hang with the Warriors again.