Feb 24, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Staff WriterThe Cougar girls fell 58-46 to top-seeded Lovell in the West 2-A regional title game.
The Wind River girls are back in the big dance for the first time since their Class 2-A state consolation title in 2005, but it wasn't easy.
Wind River survived a battle with the Thermopolis Bobcats in semifinal action 43-40 to advance to Saturday afternoon's Class 2-A West regional final with the Lovell Bulldogs.
In the title game, the Cougars led early and closed to four points in the second half but fell to the Bulldogs 58-46.
Wind River faces Southeast Goshen at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Casper College in the state tournament.
Lovell routed Wind River three weeks ago in Pavillion 74-34, but Saturday's championship game played out much closer for the Cougars.
Lovell used its height advantage well in the paint, with Amanda Robertson and Chelsey Ellis combining for more than half of the Bulldogs' points. Ellis tallied 18 and Robertson 15, with all of their shots coming on the low block.
The Cougars only slowed the duo when they fouled and sent the Lovell stars to the line. Ellis hit only four of 10 attempts from the stripe, but Robertson shot 7-9.
Lexi Brown opened the game with a pair of free throws, but Lovell was quick to answer, building an 8-2 lead on baskets by Emilee Reasch, Ellis and Robertson.
Wind River mounted a quick 7-2 run to close the game to a single point with 2:00 remaining in the first, with Bret Groesbeck hitting a pair of short jumpers and freshman Lexa Wagon coming off the bench to hit the first of her three 3-pointers.
Just as the Cougars clawed their way back into contention, Lovell pushed the lead to seven again on a spectacular, buzzer-beating trey by Kassidy Hetland that cleared the net just after the scoreboard turned red.
The second period was all Lovell, which dominated play in the paint, getting shot after shot on offensive rebounds. Defensively, Lovell limited the Cougars to just one shot on most possessions.
Robertson hit both ends of a bonus free throw to double the score at 31-15 with 45 seconds left in the half. The final 4:40 of the second period marked a 9-0 Lovell run.
"We have to rebound. It killed us in the first half," Wind River head coach Justin Walker said. "Everybody needs to rebound, not just one or two."
Lovell threatened to blow out the Cougars in the third, building a 17 point lead by the end of the period. Ellis hit back-to-back shots to close the period.
A little tournament magic lit up the Wind River end of the floor to open the final period. Lexi Brown came to life with dribble penetration for close range shots, along with jumpers from Groesbeck, treys from Wagon and three steals with one hard drive to the basket by Josee Vogel.
With 5:06 left in the game Lovell coach Chris Edwards called timeout trying to end a 13-0 Wind River run with the Cougars down by only four points at 44-40.
The timeout was just what the Bulldogs needed to settle down, and they cruised on an 11-2 run to end any Cougar hopes of a regional title.
Brown paced the Cougars with 13 points while Wagon and Groesbeck tallied nine each.
Wind River 43, Thermopolis 40
Friday's semifinal tilt was a defensive struggle from start to finish. Thermopolis and Wind River met once in the regular season, with the Bobcats overcoming a 15-point second-half deficit to edge the Cougars.
Thermopolis senior Dana Bjorhus is one of the best scorers in the state, and Vogel drew the assignment to defend the high-flying guard. Vogel was a defensive demon, limiting Bjorhus to just one 3-pointer, and that came when the Cougars were in a zone defense on an inbounds play.
While Vogel applied the individual defense, Macayla Arrington took control in the paint, altering shots and rebounding well.
Brown provided the offense, leading all scorers with 20 points.
Close tournament games often come down to free-throw shooting and the Cougars hit 68 percent from the line, converting 17 of 25 attempts.
WIND RIVER 9 10 11 13 - 43
THERMOPOLIS 8 13 4 15 W22; 40
Wind River - Josee Vogel 1-2 1, Shaylee Lonedog 1 3-4 5, Brett Groesbeck 3 (1) 0-0 9, Amanda C'Bearing 1 3-6 5, Lexus Brown 5 (1) 7-8 20, Macayla Arrington 3-5 3. Totals 10 (2) 17-25 43
Thermopolis - Bailey Fisher 1 (1) 1-2 6, Sierra Schmidt 5 0-0 10, Haylee Hoffman 2 0-0 4, Jordan Leyba 4 5-8 13, Dana Bjorhus (1) 0-1 3, Christina Porath 2 0-1 4. Totals 14 (2) 6-12 40
WIND RIVER 9 6 10 21 W22; 46
LOVELL 16 15 11 16 - 58
Wind River - Josee Vogel 2 0-2 4, Shaylee Lonedog 1 1-3 3, Bret Groesbeck 4 1-2 9, Amanda C'Bearing 1 (1) 2-3 7, Alexa Wagon (3) 0-0 9, Lexus Brown 2 9-11 13, Macayla Arrington 1-4 1. Totals 10 (4) 14-25 46
Lovell - Lauren Hinckley 1 0-0 2, Chayli McArthur 1 4-6 6, Dominique Allred 0-2 0, Kassidy Hetland 1 (1) 0-0 5, Kim Shumway 3 0-0 6, Amanda Robertson 4 7-9 15, Chelsey Ellis 7 4-10 18, Emilee Reasch 2 2-3 6. Totals 19 (1) 17-30 58
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