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Lady Dragons Split at Districts; Dominate West Side 71-35, Then Fall to Soda Springs 46-54

Mikell Keetch shoots over West Side's 6'5" Holly Kropf during the District Tournament.

With the 2023-2024 regular season in the rearview mirror, the Lady Dragons are full swing into tournament play.  In their first week of games, Malad split their games, losing to Bear Lake in their tournament opener in Bear Lake, followed by a win at home against West Side.

Coming to the postseason tournament in the third seed position, the Lady Dragons were set to play against the second seed team, the Bear Lake Bears, the only team that beat Malad twice in the regular season.  The Lady Dragons came out strong as they began the game, taking the Bear for a surprise as they worked the ball inside for their first score of the game instead of the quick outside shot.  Their patient ball work led to a quick 8-0 lead as Olivia Nelson, Hallie Horlsey and Oaklie Hebdon put up shots for Malad.

The defense came out firing just as strong, forcing rushed shots and turnovers by Bear Lake.  The Lady Dragons extended their defense to put pressure on the ball, forcing the Bears to move down the court more quickly to avoid calls in the back court, turnovers or a MHS steal.  It wasn’t until four minutes into the quarter before Bear Lake managed to put the ball through the hoop, which was quickly answered by a three point shot by Brynnlee Jones on a quick transition down court.  

The Lady Dragon defense held the Bears in the single digits as they closed out the first quarter with the scoreboard reading 15-5.  The defense of both teams dominated the first two minutes of the second quarter until Bear Lake was able to penetrate the key and throw up a little floater to put them 14-7.  After a Bears foul, the Lady Dragons lined up for the inbounds play with Nelson coming out on the corner.  Seeing Kiley Miller open on the opposite wing, Nelson sent the ball across where Miller caught and shot for a quick Malad score.

Over the next few possessions, the Lady Dragons suffered a handful of missed shots, spurring on some confidence for the Bears.  But even before Bear Lake could take advantage of Malad’s small slump, the Lady Dragons were back at it, putting up drive, scores and points on the board.  With only 7 seconds left of the half, Malad was set to inbound the ball after the time out.  After getting the ball, Jones spotted up at the top of the key for the three pointer, bumping it off the rim.  But coming in for the rebound, Jones skated her way through the defense to pick up the board on the right block and flicked it in for a lay up just before the time expired to bring the score to 21-12.

Bear Lake came out with a quick three point score to the second half, something Malad had seen before.  Their defense was quick to tighten up, with their offense working to create scoring opportunities.  When shots wouldn’t fall from the outside, the second chance shots put up by Nelson and Horsley helped keep the scoring alive.  Despite their best efforts, the Bears found more success on their offensive, narrowing the point gap to just two points at the end of the third quarter, 28-26.

With the difference on the scoreboard only a single shot, it was really anybody’s game.  Scoring first in the fourth quarter, Bear Lake tied, but fell behind again as Horsley hit the outside shot on the inbounds play after Hebdon was fouled on the drive.  Getting fouled on the block again, Horsley hit a free throw to expand the lead one more point. But not ready to give up, the Bears put up a three pointer just three possessions later to tie it up again.  

Over the final minutes of the game, the Lady Dragons were unable to connect with the basket, while Bear Lake surged ahead.  Fighting to the very last minute, Malad came up short, 34-41.  Head Coach Trever Jones commented, “We knew this would be a tough game; Bear Lake is a good team.  Our girls did a lot of good things in this game, leading for more than three quarters.  But in the end, too many missed shots on our end and too few rebounds on their end put the score in their favor.”

Falling to Bear Lake, the Lady Dragons moved on to their second game of the district tournament against West Side in Malad on Saturday, February 3.  Even after beating the Pirates in both of their games during the regular season, the Lady Dragons knew this wasn’t a game to overlook.  The Pirates came out firing, putting up four big three point shots to help them keep the lead before Malad narrowing took over as the first quarter ended.

Finally getting into the game, the Lady Dragons came out in the second quarter with a will to win, playing their game on both ends of the court.  Izzy Haycock worked to penetrate the defense as she drove to the basket, kicking out to Hebdon on the wing early in the quarter for the open three points shot.  Hebdon led the Lady Dragons in points with 18, followed by Horsley who added 12, and Jones and Mikell Keetch putting up 11 each.  

Nelson stepped up in a big way for the Lady Dragons throughout the game as she snagged rebounds, denied the ball inside and anticipated passes for a Malad steal.  Nelson put up 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals, 1 block and 2 points for Malad.  As a team, the Lady Dragons held the Pirates scoreless in the second half while they put up 18 points.

Moving into the second half, Malad kept up the pressure as they played a full court game.  Going up against the 6’6” forward was a challenge to both defend and rebound against, but the Lady Dragons were determined to out-hustle and out-play the Pirates.  As they worked their way through the third quarter, the MHS team extended their lead to 56-26.

With their considerable lead, the clock ran continuously through the fourth quarter, the Lady Dragons working to play all out.  With only a few minutes remaining, Coach Jones subbed out his starters to bring in the bench.  Not skipping a beat, the junior players came out saying “Game on!”, executing their plays to near perfection and hitting big shots because of it. Paityn Ward, Mady Vanbebber, Teagan Daniels and Nicole Moss added points to finish off the last Lady Dragon home game of the season to win 71-35. 

Not only did Malad celebrate their win over West Side to keep them in the tournament, but also celebrated the end of a long post-season tournament dry spell as they put up the first district tournament win in several seasons.  

The sweet taste of victory was short-lived, however, as the Lady Dragons once again took on the Cardinals on Monday, February 5 in Soda Springs after their loss to Bear Lake on Saturday night.  The two teams split their in season games, ensuring the matchup would be intense, and it was.  Even closer than the final score would indicate, the Lady Dragons ended up just short of the Cardinals after a hard-fought game, ending their season 46-54 in the “loser out” game for a trip to the state tournament.  A full season wrap up will be coming next week, as the Soda Springs game ended just after press time for the week.  Congratulations on a great season, Ladies!

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