The Rapid City Stevens girls' basketball team saved its best for last.
The Raiders dug deep after seeing their early lead disappear and got a defensive stop in the final seconds to edge Sioux Falls O’Gorman, 44-41, on Saturday and claim the consolation championship of the state Class AA girls basketball tournament.
Fans in Barnett Arena were on the edge of their seats for much of the final quarter after the Lady Knights completed a comeback from as many as 16 points down early in the game. Stevens found itself trailing 41-37 after an Emma Ronsiek 3-pointer with 3:51 left.
Stevens clamped down on the defensive end and didn’t allow O’Gorman another point the rest of the game while scoring the final seven points of the contest themselves.
“We all knew that we had to keep calm and just play our game and play really hard defense,” Raider junior Kyah Watson said. “And keep the tempo that we had going.”
“It’s not always pretty, it's not always perfect, but our team has such a resolve and we play with such passion,” Stevens coach Michael Brooks said. “We're not the biggest team, but we've learned our strength is speed and quickness and defense. We rely on those things every single day to be successful.”
The Raiders needed all those positive traits when the tide of the game swung to the Lady Knights late in the third quarter.
Stevens bolted out to a 16-3 lead after a quarter and still led 24-18 at the half after O’Gorman finally got its offense on track.
Ronsiek hit a 3-pointer to give O’Gorman its first lead at the 5:20 mark of the fourth quarter. After Stevens’ Laura Petik hit two free throws, Carly Kunkel hit another 3-pointer to give the Lady Knights a 38-35 lead.
Jayda McNabb, who provided Stevens with energetic play at key times all tournament long, grabbed a defensive rebound went end-to-end and scored. Ronsiek, who led all scorers with 21 points, canned another 3 for a 41-37 Knight lead.
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From there the Raiders dug in and kept the Lady Knights off the scoreboard the rest of the game.
McNabb made two free throws to draw Stevens within 41-39, then Delaney Klosterman spun away from the taller Ronsiek and hit a jumper to tie the game at 41 with 2:23 left. Grace Martin put Stevens up when she calmly drained two free throws a minute later.
The Raiders, with only two team fouls with two minutes to go, defended the Lady Knights away from the basket, using fouls to keep O’Gorman from getting into its half-court offense.
“We gave fouls just so they couldn't get a full head of steam going,” Brooks said. “The sideline is a little bit harder to score off of, but it also gives us the advantage of having five people versus their four on the court in a situation where they need a 3.”
McNabb hit the second of two free throws after she was fouled, upping Stevens’ lead to 44-41 with 13.9 seconds remaining.
Again, the Raiders fouled the Lady Knights before they could get headed down court. O’Gorman got set up in its offense as the last seconds ticked away, but Watson tipped a pass that went out of bounds near half court with 2.9 seconds left.
Stevens denied inbound pass from Ronsiek, so Moore found herself with the ball on the game’s last play. McNabb tipped Moore’s shot and it came down well short of the bucket.
“It’s a great way to end the state tournament,” Brooks said. “It’s just great to watch our team take hold of that mental aspect and grow in these situations.”
Watson finished with 11 points to lead Stevens (17-7). Senior Cameron Karley and Petik, a junior guard, came off the bench to score nine and seven points, respectively.