CASPER – Northwest College women’s basketball team came out in red jerseys for its Region IX semifinal playoff game against Western Nebraska.
That is not always a color the Lady Trappers wear.
“We chose red because we knew we were going to a battlefield,” sophomore forward Kira Marlow said.
The Trappers knew facing Western Nebraska was going to be different than their first-round, 103-64 victory over Western Wyoming in Powell. And they knew it shaped up as a different type of match-up than their 79-58 quarterfinal win over Trinidad State of Colorado the day before.
Northwest lost its last war of the season 67-62 last Friday, at Thunderbird Gym to a 29-4 Cougar team.
“Everyone wanted it so badly,” sophomore center Dallas Petties said.
As the Trappers rolled to a 25-8 season, the best in coach Janis Beal’s nine seasons in charge, the first game in Casper against Trinidad followed their script.
Marlow led the team with 17 points, making eight-of-11 from the floor. Julynne da Silva Sa, the 6-foot-4 Brazilian also nearing the end of her Trapper career, scored 14 points.
Guard Charri McArthur of Lovell, one of nine sophomores graduating, added 10 points.
The margin gave Beal flexibility in dividing minutes and as often occurred during the regular season, everybody played and many scored.
Fatigue was not an issue against Western. Yet in the early going Northwest appeared flat-footed on defense and missed numerous layups on offense. The Cougars were playing at a higher speed and led by 10 in the first quarter and 13 in the second quarter.
“I didn’t finish layups,” said Marlow, who was 1-for-11 from the field.
But she wasn’t alone.
“In the first half we had like 10 missed layups,” Beal said.
Being a step slow, it was almost as if the Trappers were clinging to Cougar shirt-tails to keep up. That was definitely true of shifty, quick Western guard Karli Seay, who started strong, finished strong and led Western with 34 points.
“She was a tough match-up for us with her quickness and speed,” Beal said. “She hit some big shots.”
After their shaky beginning, so did the Trappers.
McArthur, Kaylee Brown (6) and Alexi Payne (10) rotated in off the bench and sparked a rally, mostly with long shots.
A layup offender early, da Silva Sa then took over for stretches with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
“She definitely had a presence inside,” Beal said.
The Cougars may have imitated greyhounds in the first half, but the Trappers turned aggressors after halftime. By midway through the third quarter every possession was prized.
Northwest tied things at 30-30, then again at 39 when Tayla Sayer hit a three-pointer and again at 42 when freshman guard Tala Aumua-Tuisavura hit another.
The game continued like that – punch and counterpunch – knotted at 45, 47 and 50. Western pulled ahead, 55-50, but the Trappers came back again, taking their only lead of the game, 56-55, when Payne made a layup.
Aumua-Tuisvavura made one of two free throws with 1 minute, 57 seconds left, for still another tie at 62.
However, in crunch time, Seay took command again to build a slight lead while the Trappers could not convert as the clock ran out.
“We were right there the whole time,” Trapper forward Dani McManamen said. “We needed to make our layups and free throws better and take better care of the ball.”
Beal sounded as if she will be haunted by those missed short shots.
“I don’t think we played our best game,” she said. “Not quite the end we hoped for.”
Brown, who after a recent big Northwest win put that triumph in Shakespearean terms, calling it a masterpiece, stuck with the same theme to sum up this defeat.
“A tragedy,” Brown said of this stage play. “Definitely a tragedy.”