Herders win one, lose one but can’t play again at state
Thursday, March 19, 2020



Top, Emily Cooley charges through Valkyrie defenses for a difficult layup during the first game of the state tournament Thursday.


Top, Sweet Grass High School cheerleaders perform at half time during the state tournament last weekend.


Above, Emily Cooley get the jump on Big Fork, leaping for a rebound Thursday. Cooley put up the second most points that night with 11.


Above, Hailee Brandon jumps up for a contested layup against the Big Fork Valkyries on Thursday. The girls won 47-35 and moved on to the semifinals to play the Forsyth Dogies.


Left, Bailey Finn, the top scorer of the night with 16 points, breaks away from Valkyrie defense and takes off down the court.

The Sweet Grass girls basketball team soared with a remarkable 23-2 season. The way it ended in Butte was not what they wanted, but they are already looking toward next year when they should be just as strong or even better.

The Herder ladies won their first game at state over Big Fork, 47-35, but dropped a rematch with Forsyth Friday, 46-30. That left one more game Saturday, the consolation match. It never happened. The tournament was abruptly shut down because of the coronavirus scare.

“They were disappointed. There was not much closure,” said Coach Kim Finn. “But to put it in perspective we need to celebrate our great season. Everybody performed and handled their roles.”

That is true. The Herders plowed through their schedule with energy and guts, and they played as a team. It was the best girls season since the early 1980s

On Thursday, they won their 23rd game of the year by shooting and playing well to beat the Big Fork Valkyries. Top scorer Bailey Finn got into early foul trouble but came back to score 16 points, while Emily Cooley added 11. Darby Johnston bagged seven points. The Herders opened up their lead with a 16-5 second quarter burst that gave them a 25-13 halftime lead. Then they held on in the second half.

Next on Friday was Forsyth, a team the girls beat earlier in tournament play. The Forsyth Dogies had a plan this game to stop Bailey Finn by double-teaming her and keeping the ball out of her hands. The strategy worked and the rest of the Herders could not make up the lack of her scoring.

“It was almost identical to the Colstrip game,” the coach said. “Their goal was to keep Bailey from scoring. It was our lowest point total of the season and our shooting was not good.”

Finn managed just six points. Cooley did step up with 11 points and Hailee Brandon came through with eight. But the Herders were hard pressed to score any more, managing just two points total in the first quarter and 30 for the game. It didn’t help that they couldn’t stop Forsyth’s tall Lindsey Hein from getting 26 points. The Dogies widened their lead to 17 by late in the fourth quarter and SGHS could not get back in it.

They were scheduled to play in the consolation round Saturday, but that is when the plug was pulled on the final day of state. Missoula Loyola was set to play Forsyth for the championship, but there would no trophies this year.

Although they were disappointed, the girls “have fuel for next season,” Coach Finn said. “We have good freshmen coming up and everybody back except for Jolie (Wood). We excited about next year.”

The Herders bounced from a 13-12 record the previous season to 23-2 this year, going unbeaten much of the year. Bailey Finn and Emily Cooley have been named to the Class B All-State team and were first-team All-Conference.

Alyssa Boshart made second-team All-Conference.

Coach Finn likes what she will see coming next season. “We will be a year older and a year stronger,” she added.

What a year this was. Expect a lot more success next year from these girls.