BEAL CITY —It was an unexpected and wonderful run, however, Montabella’s playoff streak came to an end at the hands of Leroy Pine River Tuesday.
After clinching their first district title since 2009 last Friday, the Mustangs (9-15) ran into a well-oiled machine in the Leroy Pine River Bucks (22-2), who beat the Mustangs 65-30 with their inside game, using Bucks center Kierra Justin collecting 14 points and 11 rebounds, and their outside game, with Julie Justin, who got 15 points and three assists.
The Mustangs were lightning hot against Farwell in their district-opening win, with senior guard Hanna Stockwell recording a team-record 35 points and Madi Cutler close to getting her second quadruple-double of the season. They then earned two tough wins against Harrison and Beal City to advance to the regionals.
But against the Bucks, Montabella’s shooting went cold.
“We were not hitting tonight. I think we were a little scared going inside against the big girl (Kierra Justin), so we started launching threes early,” Montabella coach Terry Larsen said. “But if they were going in, we’d be in great shape. But they weren’t, so we obviously got behind and then we kept getting further and further behind.”
Stockwell, who went 0-14 from the 3-point line against the Bucks, said Pine River’s defense was tough to beat.
“They had really good defense, a really good switch-the-pick defense outside. Their defense does win championships, that’s for sure,” Stockwell said.
For Cutler, the team’s point guard and leader, the loss, which finished her career with Montabella, was tough to accept.
“This playoff run meant a lot. I mean, to be honest, I never thought we’d be going this far, and to actually do it, it’s pretty amazing. We worked really hard,” Cutler said. “But tonight, it was just a blur.”
Despite being down 25-11 in the second quarter, the Mustangs kept within that range going into halftime, behind 31-17, with the cold shooting continuing in the third quarter and Cutler drawing her fourth foul with 6:15 to go, the Bucks proved too good to conjure a Mustangs comeback.
“They’re a good team. They always seemed to have the No. 2 (shooter) open,” Larsen said. “If they were bench players or not, I’m not sure, but it always seemed like they had a five-on-four matchup against us.”
Despite their season ending, Stockwell said she enjoyed the last playoff run with her team, which included a district trophy.
“This playoff run means more than anything. We worked so hard for it,” she said. “We fell short the past two years and in our senior year, I mean, we cared about league play, but we were just more worried about getting a title and getting something to remember. It’s hard to hear that last buzzer go off.”
Cutler said her last season with the team has been the most memorable, as well.
“It was the best season ever. We got a trophy this year. That trophy felt pretty good,” Cutler said. “We very good with each other, we knew our roles and we were good at helping each other out.”
Larsen’s team consisted four seniors in all, including Stockwell’s sister, Kendra, and Lexi McQueen.
“These seniors mean a lot to me. Madi, I had since she was a freshman. When it came to basketball, I think we shared a brain because we don’t have to talk to each other as much as just look at each other and we know what each other is thinking,” Larsen said. “The Stockwells and Lexi, they’re all a great group of kids. They really are.
“We had a great run,” Larsen added. “The girls came together. They always hustle, they never quit.”
The Mustangs were led by Cutler, who finished with 11 points, three rebounds and two blocks, followed by Kendra Stockwell’s six points and Lauryn Wisner’s four points and five rebounds. Hannah Stockwell finished with four points and three assists.
Leroy Pine River will face Hemlock (20-4) in the regional finals Friday.