The Fairfield High School Lady Eagles had their season come to an end after they lost out in two games at the State Class B tournament in Belgrade, but not without pouring their hearts and souls into each contest.
The Eagles lost by just three points in each game — 41-38 to Columbus and 57-54 in overtime to Missoula Loyola.
The Eagles started off cold in the game against Columbus, only scoring eight points in the first quarter while the Cougars dumped in 18. Neither team was hot in the second quarter, but the Eagles outscored Columbus, 6-3. The second half of the contest was a different story. The Eagles got rolling in the third quarter, scoring 13 points while holding the Cougars to just four. Fairfield held a two-point lead, 27-25, going into the fourth quarter.
The last eight minutes was a see-saw battle with the lead changing several times. Both teams had an opportunity to win with Columbus taking the advantage.
Naemi Wipf was the leading scorer for the Eagles with 12 points. Taylor Simmons added nine and Kenna Pitcher seven. The Eagles were 13 of 14 from the free-throw line.
Columbus had even scoring with Brenna Rouane having 10 points and Morgan Kirch nine.
“Columbus was a good match-up for us, and both teams were very similar in both size and speed,” Eagles head coach Dustin Gordon said. “Columbus, who averages under 40 points a game, came out hot and hit some tough shots early. We were forced to change our game plan after the first quarter and work on an early deficit.”
Gordon said they girls really battled back, and found themselves in a tight game for most of the last quarter. “We gave ourselves a few chances to win, but fell just short in the end,” he said. “It was certainly a game we could have won, and I feel if there were more time, we probably would have, but in the end, Columbus did enough to hang on and advance. Coach Burke did a great job and I applaud his kids for grinding that one out.”
The loss to Columbus set up loser-out action with Missoula Loyola on Friday afternoon.
The Eagles led in the low-scoring opening quarter, 9-5. The Missoula Loyola girls picked up the pace in the second quarter, outscoring Fairfield, 14-11, and cutting the Eagles’ lead to only one at the half, 20-19. In the third quarter, Loyola outscored Fairfield, 19-7. The Eagles stayed patient and worked their way back into the game in the fourth quarter, outscoring Loyola, 22-11. They tied the score on a last-second shot to send the game into overtime.
Loyola put in the first two baskets in overtime, forcing Fairfield to play catchup. Despite pulling to within two points, the Fairfield girls couldn’t manage to tie the game or pull ahead.
“Loyola is young, but very fast and talented,” Gordon said. “They put relentless full-court pressure on every possession and take most of a team’s half-court offense, sets and special plays out of the equation.”
Gordon said to have success, you must adapt to a full-court game and attack in transition. “I felt like most of the game we did a great job of attacking and getting to the free throw line,” he said. “Again, we fell behind by 12 and really had to battle to get back into the game, which ultimately came down to a last second put-back by Cheyenne Maddox to force overtime. We had chances again to win in both regulation and overtime, but fell short by a bucket. It was heart wrenching, but I am sure proud of our heart, effort and character.”
Leading the way for the Eagles in their final game was junior Kenna Pitcher with 25 points followed by Wipf with 12 points and Maddox close behind with 11.
Looking at the overall state tournament, Gordon said Pitcher struggled a little on Thursday, but really had a nice game on Friday. “She played a lot of minutes, including overtime, in a fast-paced game and made plays on both ends,” Gordon said. “Naemi has played well every tournament and hit some huge shots in tough moments. Alexis McWilliams, who rarely comes out of the game and is often overlooked, played well against Loyola, considering the constant pressure on her at the point. (Taylor) Simmons had her best weekend of the year and hit some huge free throws all weekend. And Cheyenne Maddox, well she always goes 100 miles per hour and makes stuff happen; this weekend was no different.”
“In the end, I feel like I could easily give multiple examples of situations where everyone who played made quality contributions throughout the weekend,” Gordon said. “I feel like we were as good as just about all the teams there. The two favorites over the course of the season played for the championship, Wolf Point and Florence, and it wasn’t a surprise Wolf Point won.
“We were seconds and/or a couple free throws away from beating Loyola and could have just as easily been playing Friday night at the state tourney ourselves, it was just that close. Anyone who based our value or ability on our regular season record doesn’t know us very well and certainly isn’t familiar with our program philosophy or all the adversity we have had to overcome. I am so proud of this group of girls and what they have accomplished.”
Gordon expressed his and the team’s appreciation for the supportive followers. “We thank the students, fans and especially the parents who supported us not only at tournaments, but all year,” he said. “It was great to see all the fans who came down to Belgrade to support the girls. It made a difference.”
When asked about the season, Gordon commented the team has been a work in progress for two years due to injuries and re-injuries. “We have several girls who played junior varsity for a couple quarters all regular season who, by the end of the season, were ready for an increased varsity role. This group was very unselfish and really wanted team success,” he said. “That allowed us to really come together at the end and play our best basketball when it counted.”
Gordon said a lot of credit goes to the team’s seniors and to the injured players who came every day to practice and dedicated themselves to creating a positive and fun environment. “Credit also goes to my assistant coaches (Skylar Steinbach and Megan Caffyn) who took on a more involved role this year, did a great job of addressing the mental and chemistry aspects of our team,” Gordon added.
The team is saying goodbye to four seniors this year. “Aria Johnson and Alexis McWilliams played a ton of minutes two years ago and both were major contributors to a state championship,” Gordon said. “Emily Clotfelter and Naemi Wipf have taken their turn as senior leaders and made this season both positive and fun. I am going to miss them all.”
Columbus 18-3-4-16 — 41
Fairfield 8-6-13-11 — 38
Columbus — Brenna Rouane 5 0/0 10, Alexa Riveland 2 2/3 7, Payton West 1 0/0 3, Morgan Kirch 2 5/6 9, Brooklyn Wylie 2 3/4 7, Trista Teeters 0 2/3 2, Liz Loras 1 0/0 3. Totals: 13 12/16.
Fairfield — Naemi Wipf 4 2/2 12, Madison Rosenbaum 2 0/0 5, Emily Clotfelter 1 0/0 3, Kenna Pitcher 1 4/4 7, Taylor Simmons 2 5/6 9, Cheyenne Maddox 0 2/2 2. Totals: 10 13/14.
Fouls: Columbus 9, Fairfield 17. Fouled out: none. Three-point goals: Riveland, West, Loras, Wipf 2, Rosenbaum, Clotfelter, Pitcher.
Missoula Loyola 5-14-19-11-8— 57
Loyola — S. Clevenger 3 8/12 14, L. Denning 2 0/0 4, L. Walker 2 1/4 6, A. Libel 1 1/1 3, S. Koppang 3 5/10 14, K. Esh 1 4/4 6, N. Clevenger 3 0/0 6, W. Whitegrass 2 0/0 4. Totals: 17 19/31.
Fairfield — Naemi Wipf 5 0/0 12, Emily Clotfelter 1 1/2 3, Kenna Pitcher 4 14/19 25, Taylor Simmons 0 2/2 2, Cheyenne Maddox 3 4/6 11, Kyler Bake 0 1/2 1. Totals: 13 22/31.
Fouls — Loyola 20, Fairfield 21. Fouled out: Walker, Simmons, Maddox. Three-point goals: Walker, Koppang 2, Wipf 2, Pitcher 3, Maddox.