Belle Fourche girls’ basketball coach Bill Burr couldn’t remember a time during his tenure that the Broncs had beaten St. Thomas More, including last year’s loss in the Sweet 16.
That streak is over, and there might be a new bully on the block in Class A girls’ basketball.
In a packed and stuffy gym in Belle Fourche with the top two teams in the South Dakota Prep Media Poll going at it, the Broncs took down the four-time defending state champions 43-42 on a last second steal by Shayla Howell.
“We’ve played them since I’ve been coaching, and we haven’t been on the winning side,” Burr said. "This senior group has been playing against them since third grade, with travelling basketball and what not, and in high school we just weren’t able to get them, and we knew that this was a conference game for them and they (the seniors) wanted it bad. They had a bad taste in their mouth from last year and they’ve been talking about it.”
One of those seniors was Taylor Hanson, who led all scorers with 14 points. Hanson and the other seniors were visibly excited after the game, and she said it’s because this win has been a long time coming.
“We’ve wanted it for a really long time and we pulled it off. It was a good game, they played good, we played good; it was a good game,” she said. “It means so much, it’s a highlight of my senior year so far, but I hope we can keep going and make some more highlights.”
The game began as a defensive duel, with two of the best in the state flexing their muscles.
“I thought our defense was great today,” Burr said. “We struggle on offense because we don’t have great shooters, and we talked about before the game, we knew we were going to play great defense. You can say STM is a great defensive ball club, we didn’t get many looks.”
STM jumped out to an early 4-1 lead, but a 3-pointer from Mandee Williamson tied the game.
Later in the first, the Cavs built their lead to 9-4, but again the Broncs battled back, ending the quarter on a 5-0 run which included a 3-pointer from Hanson at the buzzer. After eight minutes of play, Belle Fourche led 11-9.
In the first quarter alone the Broncs found themselves in the bonus because of fouls by STM, something Cavaliers coach Brandon Kandolin said was a theme all game.
“We couldn’t defend their post,” Kandolin said. “We picked up way too many cheap fouls. We have to figure out how to defend better.”
In the second quarter it was STM that made a run, scoring the first nine points of the quarter to take a 18-11 lead. Again, Belle Fourche made a run and brought the game to 21-20 at the quarter's end, before Klaire Kirsch hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give STM a 24-20 lead at the half.
The third quarter was where the Broncs defense started to show out. Both teams struggled offensively, but the Cavs didn't score their first point until there was 2:41 remaining in the quarter.
Still, STM was able to cobble enough offense together for five points, and at the end of the third trailed Belle Fourche 31-29.
The two traded baskets and with 4:20 remaining were tied at 33.
Two free throws from Hanson put Belle Fourche up 35-33, and the two teams stayed that way until Ashley Byrd hit a shot with less than 2:30 to put the Broncs up two possessions.
With a little more than one minute to go, Hanson hit the shot that starting making Broncs believe that finally beating STM was a possibility.
She hit a long 2-point shot as she fouled, and made the free throw to put the Broncs up two scores. But the game wasn’t over yet.
Jayden Beis, who led the Cavs in scoring with 11, hit a 3-pointer that made it a one possession game again.
And so the final minute went, with STM hitting a shot and Belle Fourche missing either one or both free throws.
With six seconds left the Broncs missed another shot but got the rebound. STM was able to knock the ball away with what the officials determined was two seconds left on the clock, but the clock initially ran out.
After starting a celebration four years in the making, the Broncs seniors had to lead their team in the huddle and remind them that it was a one point game, and there was plenty of time left for a shot.
“We just said to play our game, keep working hard and it will all fall in our favor,” Hanson said. “Keep hustling on the floor, play tough defense, play our defense and that’s what we did.”
STM got an inbounds pass in, but a pass to the corner was intercepted by Howell and the celebration was on.
Burr said while the win was big for Belle Fourche’s power points, he knows there are even bigger hurdles to climb as the Broncs move to 16-0.
“At the beginning of the season we talked, and we said 'let’s take it one play, one possession and one play at a time,'” he said. “Yeah this is a great win for us, but they have some goals they want to accomplish yet. We’ve got three more conference games left and one non-conference game. They know the schedule doesn’t get any easier, so we’re going to get right back in here, get after and stay focused on the goals they have this year.”
Belle Fourche will look to stay unbeaten against Dougls on the road Friday.
For STM, 13-2, the road to a fifth-straight state championship might have hit a bump, but Kandolin said he’s determined to not let one loss derail its season.
"The great thing is we have four games, five games left until postseason, so we have some time to figure things out," he said. "At the same time, we have to figure out what five seniors want to step up and take some of the load on their shoulders and get after it. It's going to start in practice. We'll regroup, practice hard and make sure we're focused."
STM takes on Chadron, Nebraska, at home Friday.