HELENA — About 2,300 students from Helena-area schools packed the PE Center on Wednesday afternoon, and the Carroll College women’s basketball team put on a show.
The Saints (2-0) built an early lead and weathered a second-half St. Thomas charge to defeat the Bobcats (0-2) 67-53 on Wednesday during the second annual Field Trip Game.
“I give credit to St. Thomas,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “They were aggressive and they battled and they were as fast as we’ve seen. They were as fast as any guards we saw at Utah, or Boise State. They kept the pressure on us. They did not quit.”
The Bobcats’ aggression translated into 23 turnovers for the Saints and a 23 of 26 effort from the free throw line. While Carroll’s defense held the Bobcats to 29 percent shooting from the field and a dismal 14 percent from the three-point line, St. Thomas, for the second consecutive evening, made a run at their Frontier Conference foe. The Bobcats trailed Montana Tech by 21 points on Tuesday, and battled back to tie the game.
Early on, the Saints jumped out to a 6-0 lead and kept the Bobcats off the board for half of the first quarter, but Katie Rienas, who finished with a game-high 18 points, put her team on the board with an and-one fast break layup and free throw conversion. Carroll answered the Bobcats bucket with a 10-0 run. By halftime, the Saints led 37-18 and then the Bobcats used a 22-13 third quarter to trail 50-40 entering the fourth.
“There’s so much energy,” Sayers said of the atmosphere packed full of students. Kids hollered, sang and provided an ambience throughout the entirety of the game. “I thought early we were a little distracted. I didn’t think the kids were as focused as we needed to be. Both teams were a little rattled I think with the excitement and the adrenaline going. What an amazing experience for both teams and our community and our schools to be a part of.”
Carroll handled St. Thomas in the fourth quarter to hang on for the win.
Hannah Dean led the Saints with 13 points. Oona Harrington added nine points and 11 rebounds. The Saints had a bevy of scorers that contributed, with Carroll wanted to spread minutes up and down the lineup to keep legs fresh for Thursday night’s contest against Northwest University.
Carroll was way more aggressive than St. Thomas rebounding, pulling down 50 rebounds to the Bobcats’ 21. The Saints also shot strong from the field, hitting 46 percent and 44 percent from the three-point line.
“The last few games we shot it well,” Sayers said. “With the exception of COI, we’ve been shooting it well. I think we have good shooters and we have a good post game.”
Carroll used a three-quarter court pressure and a 2-3 zone for the majority of the game against St. Thomas, speeding up the team from Florida.
As students created a ruckus during the game, Governor Steve and Lisa Bullock presented at halftime. The Bullocks awarded students who were champions of character, which meant demonstrating respect, leadership, integrity, sportsmanship and responsibility.
“It’s not something that happens outside,” the Governor addressed the crowd. “It’s something that happens here. Inside your hearts,” he said, motioning to his chest.
Rossiter, Four Georgians, East Valley Middle School, Montana City, Jim Darcy, Bryant and Broadwater were all the schools invited to this year’s game. Carroll made an effort to invite schools that could not attend the first Field Trip Game in 2016.
The students created an environment that few games will match this season.
“It’s just fun,” Sayers said. “This is college basketball. This is why our kids are up at 6 a.m. at practice and in the weight room and running Guad hill. This is the payoff -- that excitement that people are really excited what you do. They care about this. They want to see you perform.”
The Saints are back in action at the PE Center on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Northwest University.