It was a bittersweet ending to a nearly flawless season for the Little Snake River Valley School girls varsity basketball squad.
The team claimed third place in Wyoming’s 1A state tournament Saturday, after rallying from a loss in the tournament’s semifinal round.
The Rattlers defeated the Burlington Huskies, 52-42, in a game that decided the state’s third- and fourth- place teams.
Although the accomplishment wasn’t lost on the team from Baggs, it didn’t help assuage the feeling that this was a game the Rattlers never wanted to play.
LSRV entered Casper with the West’s No.1 seed after having captured a regional title in Lander a week before the state tournament began.
The Rattlers had sustained only two losses before Friday night’s semifinals, during which the Cokeville Panthers prevailed by two points, 32-30.
That result left LSRV out of state title contention and facing an early date with the Huskies.
Moments before the 8:30 a.m. tip, Rattlers head coach Jodi Stanley asked her players how they wanted to write the season’s final chapter.
“I thought it was important that we were writing the ending to our book,” Stanley said. “We wanted to make sure that it looked the way we wanted it to look. That made a big difference to us, I think.”
By the second quarter of Saturday’s game, though, it wasn’t clear if the Rattlers had yet found an answer.
Burlington won rebounds and sank 3-pointers to go up 16-8 at the end of the first quarter and test the Rattlers’ composure.
The Huskies held a 21-15 lead midway through the second quarter before the LSRV defense dug in.
“We were a little worried that we might panic or try to force things, but we didn’t,” Stanley said. “We just clawed back into it with defense. I think our press was fairly effective.”
Having chipped away at the Burlington offense and with less than a minute remaining in the half, Rattler Caelee Criswell stole the basketball and bolted down the court for an easy lay-up that gave LSRV one of its firsts leads heading into the third quarter.
“We just knew to play Rattler basketball,” junior Morgan Wille said. “That’s good defense and reversing the ball, and that’s what we did.”
Wille and her teammates led throughout the third and fourth quarters, and used 3-pointers to deflate the Huskies whenever they drew too near.
Ahead 49-42, it was fitting that LSRV’s final points of the season came from beyond the arc.
“That is one heck of a hard game to play in,” Stanley said of the difficult turnaround schedule. “We were so disappointed after last night, our locker room felt like a morgue this morning.”
“It was really tough last night because the team was really disappointed,” Wille said. “But, we just got together as a team and talked to each other and (said) that we needed to come out and play today, and that’s what we did.”
Both Wille and Stanley said they took particular pride in the fact that only three teams end the season with a win, and that theirs was one of them.
“I was awful proud of the girls, they worked so hard out there,” Stanley said. “Last year we won the consolation championship and we built on that and I’ve got a lot of people back (for next year).”
Saturday’s game marked the end of Cora Foster and Kelsey Kazmar’s high school basketball careers — two seniors that have played a “big part” in LSRV’s success, Stanley said.
The loss of two seniors means the Rattlers will likely retain most of its roster for the 2011-12 season.
“The state tournament didn’t get to see a lot of my young kids and they’re good players, so we’re excited for the future,” Stanley said.
“Right now it’s kind of bittersweet, but it’s good to end the season with a win,” Wille said. “It’s good momentum for next season.”
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