CASPER — A lot of the final numbers held by the Lady Broncs might describe a state champion.
Best record in 4A, wins over every team in the class and a win over the other No. 1 seed in their final game of the state tournament.
In reality, the Lady Broncs may have been the best girls basketball team at the 4A state tournament and in 2012-13, but a semifinal loss Friday prevented them from hoisting the official crown.
Sheridan beat Natrona 48-43 Saturday morning at Casper College in a game in which they never trailed, convincingly securing a third place finish after dropping their semifinal to Cheyenne East the night before. East would lose to Gillette Saturday night in the 4A girls title game.
It was understandably frustrating for the Lady Broncs who had beaten Gillette twice in the last three weeks, and even more so for a team who beat Gillette and East twice this season, losing once to each.
Sheridan entered Saturday morning’s game with Natrona, the only team they hadn’t won against this season, still down from Friday night’s disappointment. The Lady Broncs had lost a 54-39 semifinal in which they admittedly didn’t play well throughout.
“We just said we don’t want to end it with a loss,” senior Hailey Ligocki said after the game Saturday.
She finished with 16 points, scoring at all the right times Saturday.
“After yesterday, it was a tough loss yesterday for all of us, we knew we didn’t play that well so today we just wanted to come out and end the season on a high-note,” she continued. “All of the seniors wanted to, all of the younger classmen wanted it to. We came out and we played hard, there was nothing to lose.”
In the two teams’ first meeting, Sheridan suffered its first loss of the year in a 37-34 overtime game shortly after Christmas. Defeated though they each may have been, both teams put on a good show Saturday.
The Lady Broncs held a one-possession lead for much of the first half. Emily Julian floated a layup over Natrona’s reputable defender Kaylee Johnson and Ligocki scored six straight as an 8-0 SHS run gave them a 13-9 lead after one quarter. Johnson would carry her team with 15 of its first 29 points. Filly free throws, eight made out of 12 attempted, kept them in the game as they managed just three made field goals in the first half.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” head coach Sean Yeager said. “You never know, as a coach, after a tough loss how your kids will bounce back. I will say this, we fought for each other and they had faith in the coaching staff that we had a good game plan, and they had faith in each other to go out and execute.”
Sheridan extended its lead right off the bat in the third quarter, answering a Johnson 3-pointer with four points from Ligocki and five from Julian to make the score 29-20. Natrona would call a timeout then score six straight, but Sheridan stymied the run with Mali Wright and Maddy McClure buckets inside on subsequent possessions.
With four minutes left on the clock, Natrona would get as close as three points, but Hailey and Molly Ligocki each made a 3-pointer for another run, putting the game out of reach. Robbi Ryan added a jumper in the lane, and Hailey Ligocki knocked down free throws to push Sheridan’s total to 48.
“It means a lot,” Yeager said of the third place win. “That game means that we beat every 4A team in the state this year, we finished with the best record. Unfortunately, we didn’t win last night, but I thought we played fantastic as a team today. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Sheridan held a final mark of 24-3, winning 13 of its last 15 games.
“It’s sad because we’re losing three great girls in Baylee, Mali and Hailey,” Yeager said. “You see them grow year-round, on and off the court. Basketball is all about relationships and teaching them life skills…it’s sad to see them go, but I’m glad it went on a high note.”
While Ligocki absorbed questions from headline-seeking reporters about her future as a Wyoming Cowgirl on her last day as a Lady Bronc, it was clear her thoughts were still on the fact that this year was about Sheridan.
“This year has been the best year we had, I love this team,” she said. “It’s been so fantastic, there’s never been a time when anyone’s mad at each other.
Even after tough losses, like yesterday, we stuck together. Nobody blamed anybody, it’s a collective effort and if everybody played hard we knew we could get that last win.”
Scoring: Hailey Ligocki 16 Emily Julian 11 Robbi Ryan 6 Taylor Townsend 6 Mali Wright 4 Molly Ligocki 3 Maddy McClure 2