HELENA – As the Carroll College women’s basketball team cut down nets for the second time in 12 days – a feat reserved for the regular season and postseason conference champion – the deepest hugs were saved for one of the Saints.
“That was for you,” Hannah Dean told Bailey Pasta.
Carroll defeated No. 2-seed Rocky Mountain College 46-42 in a defensive slugfest. Dean, the junior leader, once again powered the Saints with game-high 15 points.
Most times this season, it was Dean and Pasta together torturing the opposition.
This time, as Dean dedicated the win to her friend, the junior from Gardner didn’t have her senior point guard on the floor.
Pasta tore her ACL on Saturday as the Saints defeated Lewis-Clark State in the semifinals. With a hefty brace on her right knee, Pasta was every bit a part of the championship on Tuesday.
Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said it was Pasta who had the Saints ready to play in the title game, imparting wisdom to the freshmen point guards who would be shouldering a lot of the injured guard’s duties.
“She had convinced them and communicated in them and she had instilled a belief in them that they could do this,” Sayers said. “She was going to be there with them. She was going to help through it.”
Sayers knew Pasta handled the injury with a winning attitude. The day after the season-ending injury, it was Pasta checking in on Sayers, not vice versa.
“That’s her,” Sayers said. “That’s the type of kid she is. She’s team first. She’s as loyal as they come.”
And those Saints needed another dose of resiliency on Tuesday. Carroll and Rocky misfired most of the first half, resulting in an 18-14 Battlin’ Bears advantage at halftime. No offense could fully figure out the others’ defense.
While they were at their coldest – shooting 22 percent from the field in the first half – the Saints didn’t bother warming up after halftime. They spent the entire intermission remembering just what it was that pushed Carroll to the title game in the first place.
Sayers implored her team to be aggressive. Dean said Sayers told the players to “play your game.”
“I think we came out with the best third quarter we had all year,” Dean said.
Carroll outscored Rocky 18-9 and then held on for a wild finish.
“It was our inability to make baskets,” Rocky coach Wes Keller said. “Give them credit as part of that. Some of that is you have to step up and make the shots you’re capable of making.”
Leading by two with two minutes left, the Saints went deep into the shot clock. Dean faced a double team with three seconds left on the clock, and frantically searched for the open player.
Britt Johnson came free at the 3-point line. Pass. Set. Shot. Score.
Carroll built a five-point lead and then harassed the Battlin’ Bears to hold on for the win.
“When I turned into the double I just found the open one,” Dean said. “I’m glad it was Britt. She hit two big ones at Rocky to win. Big Shot Britt. She’s been killing it.”
Sayers was at a loss of words to describe her championship team afterward. “Unbelievable” almost didn’t do the season justice.
Carroll entered the season without all-American Cassidy Hashley.
A few weeks into it, they lost starting guard Sara Chalich.
And just a few nights ago, Pasta’s season ended.
It’s why the biggest hugs on Tuesday were reserved for her.
“She’s been here working her ass off for four years,” Dean said. “She was cheering as loud as she could. We’re going to finish this season for her and with her. This win was just the start.”
Not bad for a team picked to finish fourth.