Late defensive play sends Killdeer to state title game

Al Christianson/MDN Killdeer's Mackenzie Hughes (5) drives to the basket Friday.

Killdeer senior forward Trae Murray has always had extra incentive to sacrifice her body for the good of the team.

“Our coach has always told us, whenever someone takes a charge, we get ice cream,” Murray said.

But on Thursday, she didn’t need to resort to thoughts of creamy delights for motivation.

With her team clinging to a one-point lead against Thompson in the Class B girls basketball state tournament semifinals, Murray took a game-changing charge with 14 seconds remaining. It was a play that sent Murray and the Cowboys to the state championship with a 48-47 victory at the MSU Dome.

“It’s really surreal,” Murray said after finishing with a team-high 14 points. “I thought winning region was great, but this feeling is indescribable. I have no words. It’s our first time being in the state championship, and we’re ready.”

With the victory, Killdeer faces Grant County in the state title game at 8:15 p.m. tonight at the MSU Dome.

“There were a lot of tears of happiness and girls in our locker room screaming and saying how much they love each other in our locker room,” Killdeer head coach Ashlee Viveros said. “This group is incredibly special with the amount of love that they show each other.”

Killdeer took a 12-10 lead after one quarter, but neither team scored in the first 4 minutes in the second. Brittney Munson broke the scoring drought by converting Thompson’s first 3-pointer in five and a half quarters to give her team a 13-12 lead. The Cowboys took a 21-17 lead into halftime.

Shooting percentages weren’t pretty for either squad after one half, with the Tommies shooting 8-of-24 from the floor and the Cowboys converting 8 of 26 shots. Killdeer was 2-of-12 from the free throw line, while Thompson was 0-for-2.

For the second straight game, Killdeer struggled to get through the third quarter. Thompson began the second half on a 12-0 run and outscored the Cowboys 16-9 in the quarter, taking a 33-30 lead into the fourth.

“After halftime, we just knew that we had to go out there and run through our plays,” Thompson coach Jason Brend said. “We wanted to get the ball inside and create better looks for ourselves.”

With 39 seconds remaining, the Cowboys trailed 43-42, then Killdeer’s Stena Larsen drove to the lane and converted a layup for a one-point lead.

That set the stage for Killdeer to make one last defensive stop. With 14 seconds left, Thompson’s Kaia Sorby drove to the basket, but she into a brick wall in Murray. After the official signaled the charge, Murray jumped off the floor screaming in elation.

“I knew it was going to be a game-changing call,” Murray said. “I knew it was something that needed to happen. Taking charges hurt, but that pain is only temporary. This kind of feeling lasts forever.”

Bridgette Reiss made two key free throws for the Cowboys for a 48-45 lead, then Thompson had a chance to tie, but ran a play that didn’t involve a 3-point attempt. The Tommies converted a last-second layup, but it was a moot point and Killdeer secured a one-point victory.

Reiss finished with 10 points for the Cowboys, which shot 37 percent from the floor, 5-of-16 from beyond the arc and 9-of-23 from the free throw line.

Kailen Dolleslager had a game-high 16 points for Thompson, while Mackenzie Hughes added 12.

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge