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CASPER — They had to earn it, but the Tongue River Lady Eagles walked out of the Casper Events Center on Saturday night as 2A girls state champions.
Kemmerer held the lead for much of the second half, but the Lady Eagles forced overtime play and thanks to the free throws of Sarah Rawlings, got the 55-54 win.
After winning their first two state tournament games by at least 20 points, the tight game challenged the Tongue River team, which got in foul trouble early, eliminating the Lady Eagles press defense.
Each team scored just seven points apiece in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Tongue River jumped ahead to a lead of five points.
But with the help of fouling from Tongue River, Kemmerer kept the game close and reversed the gap to earn their own five-point lead.
At several points in the second quarter, TR senior Kortni Sharp could be heard yelling to teammates to stop fouling and sending Kemmerer to the charity stripe.
“In such a close game, a nail-biter the whole way through, we can’t be having stupid fouls,” Sharp said after the game. “All the silly ones like reaching, we can’t have that in a game that close.”
The Lady Eagles went into the halftime break trailing by two points.
The third quarter saw more back and forth plays, with both teams forcing missed shots and turnovers and the teams entered the final portion of regular play with Tongue River down by just one point, 40-41.
More on-target shots from Kemmerer put the Lady Eagles down by five points with just over three minutes of play left in regulation. But, the Tongue River team closed the gap and Rawlings sunk a shot to tie the game at 52 with just about 23 seconds left to play.
As fans in the events center cheered “Go big green!” the Lady Eagles held strong on defense, sending the game into overtime.
Both teams struggled to sink shots in the four extra minutes, but Kemmerer made several fouls, sending Rawlings to the line.
Coach Dianne Moser said Rawlings carried the team on her shoulders throughout Saturday night’s battle and that showed as the senior sunk the Lady Eagles winning shots from the charity stripe.
“Felt like a lot of pressure, but it felt good to actually have a back and forth game,” Rawlings said of the close game. “It felt good to pull it out in the end.”
Rawlings led her team with a total 27 points. Sharp contributed 12 and Amanda Buller added eight points. Tara Stimpson put up four points while Cheyloh Bluemel and Kylee Knoblach each added two points to the team total.
Overall the Lady Eagles shot 31 percent from field goal range and 29.4 percent from behind the arc.
This is the second year in a row the Lady Eagles have won the state championship under Moser. After the game, Moser added that next year will likely be her last year at the helm for the Lady Eagles.
“I’m getting up there in years and I’ve done this a long time,” Moser said after Saturday’s game. “Morgan Mines is doing a great job and she’d be a great fit in our program and maybe it’s time.”
Moser added that while she still feels like she can connect with the kids, she wants to go out on her own terms.