VIRGINIA — Through the first half and the first seven minutes of the second half, the Mountain Iron-Buhl and Virginia girls’ basketball teams found themselves in a dogfight, with the Devils leading the Rangers, 45-42.
In the final 11 minutes of the contest, however, the Rangers came alive, outscoring the Devils 28-9 to close out the contest and grab the 70-54 win.
For Mountain Iron-Buhl, finding the energy for their late run was the turning point in the game, according to head coach Jeff Buffetta.
“We’re just learning how to fight through this fatigue and keep playing hard,” Buffetta said after the game. “We sort of got exposed the other night against Cherry. Cherry outplayed us in the effort category and I think today was about us just pushing through that fatigue.”
The two teams fought a close battle in the first half with neither gaining a lead larger than six points. The Devils got things going with a bucket in the paint from Erin Haerer before Rangers junior Jacie Kvas answered back with a bucket of her own. Lexiss Trygg was next to score, taking the ball to the hoop for two, but Kvas kept the Rangers moving with a bucket from the short corner.
The two teams exchanged buckets again with Haerer scoring again in the paint before Ava Butler knocked down a jumper for the Rangers to make it 6-6. Following an MI-B foul, Trygg hit 1-2 from the charity stripe and Virginia coach Spencer Aune called the first timeout of the night.
The Devils scored early thanks to numerous turnovers forced by their defense. Annoying the Rangers by clogging up the passing lanes, the Devils forced the Rangers to shoot from the outside.
Back-to-back Rangers three-pointers put MI-B up by five but the Devils answered with eight points of their own to retake the lead. The two teams continued to stay in lockstep as the half went on.
Trailing 26-25 after another Kvas bucket, Virginia grabbed five quick points thanks to a turn around hook shot from Trygg followed by a three from Kelsey Squires.
Down four, the Rangers cut the deficit to two with Hali Savela knocking down a pair of free throws right before the half ended. With half the game in the books, Virginia led Mountain Iron-Buhl 30-28.
The beginning of the second half played out much like the first half, with both teams trading buckets while keeping things close. Rian Aune hit Trygg in the post on the high-low before Kvas put up two more with her own bucket in the paint.
Anna Fink then scored for Virginia on the transition layup but Sage Ganyo knocked down a three to make it a one point game, 34-33. Later with Virginia trailing 37-36, Trygg scored on the transition before Fink knocked down a three to give the Devils a four-point lead, 41-37.
Virginia kept the small lead with Aune scoring in the paint later to make it 45-42 just before the entire game shifted in favor of the Rangers.
Only two minutes went off the clock in the initial MI-B run, but the Rangers strung together a series of turnovers that they converted into baskets, frustrating the Devils to no end.
Zubich knocked down a three pointer to tie things at 45. Gabby Lira then followed that up with back-to-back layups in transition to put MI-B up by four. Ganyo then threw up a prayer on the next offensive trip and came away with a bucket before Lira got the steal on the inbound and dropped it in for two more.
Now trailing 53-45, Virginia’s Spencer Aune called a timeout, but the Rangers kept moving along.
Virginia’s Emma Lamppa knocked down a three to stop the bleeding but Butler answered with a layup. Aune and Fink both scored on layups in response, but Butler and Ganyo were right there with buckets in the paint.
Up 10, Buffetta took a timeout with 5:17 to play for his team to get a quick rest. Out of the break, the Devils hoped to feed the ball into Trygg down low, but the Ranger defense came up big, creating more turnovers to score points off of.
The Rangers widened the gap late with buckets from Savela, Butler and Ganyo but Virginia’s shots just wouldn’t fall. With the final horn sounding, the Rangers grabbed the 70-54 win.
Ganyo led the Rangers with 20 points. Butler finished with 11. Lira and Kvas finished with 10.
Trygg led the Devils with 16 points. Fink finished with 13.
With his team turning things around in the second half, Rangers’ coach Jeff Buffetta had to give credit to Virginia for keeping things close for most of the game.
“Our girls took it to another gear in the second and it was fun to be able to do that against a good team like Virginia. They’re very well coached and they run a lot of very nice things. Fortunately for us, we hit a few more shots than them today.
“They had a few nice looks on us that didn’t go in but that’s part of the game of basketball. We were able to hit our good looks in the second half. I expect Virginia to go deep in the playoffs in 7AA and hopefully we can do the same thing in ours [7A].”
According to Devils head coach Aune, things began to fall apart when Virginia stopped executing their game plan from the first half.
“I thought we hung with our game plan more in the first half than we did in the second. We wanted to get it inside and they were doubling and tripling down there. We didn’t do a good enough job on the outside, getting in the right spots to hit open shots.
“The second half we decided to do our own thing a little too much. We were in too much of a hurry and we didn’t let things materialize.”
In the turnover battle, the Rangers finished with 11 first half turnovers, something Buffetta says they can’t do if they hope to win more games.
“That was about double what we should have in a half. We know we have to clean those up because we’re a good enough shooting team that if we actually get shots instead of turning it over, we’re going to score some baskets.”
For the Devils, the flip from creating turnovers in the first half to committing them in the second half came down to one thing according to Aune.
“Conditioning. One hundred percent conditioning,” Aune said. “We will definitely work on that and the girls know that. It’s 100% conditioning and effort. Nothing else.”
With Trygg struggling to score near the end of the game, Buffetta gave credit to Kvas guarding her in the paint all night long.
“Those two battled. Jacie battled all night. She knows she’s undersized in the post but she’s strong and she works hard. She put in a lot of work all night long guarding her.
“We’re asking these girls to give every ounce of energy out there. We might not have the depth we’ve had in years before but these girls are getting better at managing their energy and hopefully we can keep making strides.”
In order for the Devils to improve from Monday night, Aune says his team needs to understand the importance of choosing the right shot.
“We feel like some of our girls think that there’s a 15-second shot clock and we’re struggling to get them to realize that it’s not. We’ll try some more things but it’s not about how many times you can throw the ball at the hoop. It’s about how many quality shots you can get and I don’t think we’re getting enough of those right now.”
Mountain Iron-Buhl (5-2) will travel to Bigfork on Thursday. Virginia (6-2) will host Two Harbors on Saturday.
MIB 28 42 — 70
VHS 30 24 — 54
Mountain Iron-Buhl: Jacie Kvas 10, Hali Savela 8, Jordan Zubich 7, Gabby Lira 10, Sage Ganyo 20, Ava Butler 11, Lauren Maki 4; Three pointers: Zubich 2, Lira 1, Ganyo 3, Butler 1; Free throws: 7-9; Total fouls: 12; Fouled out: none.
Virginia: Anna Fink 13, Rian Aune 7, Emma Lamppa 7, Lexiss Trygg 16, Kelsey Squires 3, Erin Haerer 6, Aleksia Tollefson 2; Three pointers: Fink 1, Aune 1, Lamppa 1, Squires 1; Free throws: 6-8: Total fouls: 11; Fouled out: none.