CASPER — It was a quieter night than usual at the Events Center.
Losses for the Sheridan girls basketball team have come so infrequently this year that the silent shock from the crowd was a noticeable piece of the atmosphere Friday night in the Casper Events Center during the Lady Broncs’ 54-39 Class 4A State Semifinal loss to the Cheyenne East Lady Thunderbirds.
“We just collapsed,” head coach Sean Yeager said. His team led 10-2 in the first quarter before East took the lead and never gave it back. “We’ve beaten East I think six times in a row in the last two years, and a lot of the girls on both teams have been a part of that.”
It seemed throughout the game as though somebody was waiting for something to wake everybody else up. But in the end, the team that was due for a win got it, and from the other came the outpouring of emotion that’s so common this time of year after teams pour five months of effort into a 26-game season.
The quick 10-2 lead may have lulled the SHS crowd into a comfortable state, expecting another blowout win like the ones the Lady Broncs (23-3) had used to reach the semis, most recently a 73-37 drubbing of Green River the day before.
But, a 10-0 run by East (22-4) to close the first quarter gave them the only lead they needed. Sheridan was cemented in a nearly six-minute scoring drought that lasted from three minute mark in the first quarter until there were just under five minutes left in the half.
As the East lead grew early on, SHS guards attempted long passes that sailed out of bounds. Both teams turned the ball over equally: Sheridan gave away 23 times and East 21.
So, Sheridan was still in it. The Lady Broncs would get defensive stops but were unable to build a run on the offensive end. The lead was 19-12 midway through the second quarter, but Lady Broncs couldn’t get shots to fall while a balanced scoring from East pushed the difference to 28-16 by halftime.
“They wanted it more, they came out and played tougher when it mattered,” Yeager said. “They didn’t do anything different that what they usually do. They just played harder than us, and they hit their shots. That’s a testament to their kids and their coaching staff.”
The Lady Broncs were just seven of 24 from the field (29 percent) in the first half, missing both of their three point attempts. East shot eight of 18, capitalizing at the free throw line, shooting eight of eight up up to the break.
In the second half, the Lady Broncs scored with the Lady T-Birds, but not enough to gain on them. East outscored Sheridan 13-12 in the third quarter, as the run the Lady Broncs wanted never came.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Broncs lost senior Mali Wright when she picked up her fifth personal foul with three minutes left on the clock. Sheridan would heave 3-pointers, but eventually East would seal the game from the free throw line. Sheridan at one point early in the fourth quarter cut the lead to nine but never smaller.
The Lady Broncs were 1-11 from behind the arc and 12 of 34 for the game. East maintained its lead by knocking down 22 of 28 from the charity stripe. Hailey Ligocki scored 12 points, Mali Wright scored 10 and Robbi Ryan scored nine. The only other Lady Broncs to score were Taylor Townsend (6) and Maddy McClure (2).
East was led by Leah Cheney and Elissa Johnson who each scored 12. Rachel Erickson scored 10 points.
Sheridan plays Natrona at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Casper College in the 3rd-4th place game.
“There’s going to be another team that’s going to be upset just like us,” Yeager said of their Saturday morning consolation. Sheridan fell to Natrona 37-34 in overtime in Casper right after Christmas. “They’re going to be pretty upset. The character shows right here. We want to bounce back, it’s been a real successful season — we win regionals, we won the conference. We can either pack it in or we can go out with a win.
“I know these girls have a lot of heart,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll go out and bounce back.”
Sheridan and Natrona (22-4) entered the state tournament as No. 1 seeds after winning their respective state tournaments last weekend.
East will play Gillette for the 4A girls title later Saturday.