CASPER – The 16th and 17th points junior Brenna Herring scored during Saturday’s 1A Championship game put the Southeast Lady Cyclones in front for good.
Those two points came only 20 seconds into overtime, putting Southeast back in front. The layup also broke a three-minute dry spell by both teams, and it ultimately propelled the Lady Cyclones to a 58-53 victory inside the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper.
The state championship was the first state title for the Lady Cyclone basketball team since the 2007-08 season when they defeated Arvada-Clearmont, 47-29.
“I’m on cloud nine right now. It’s the best day ever,” Herring said smiling from ear-to-ear.
She ended the game with a double-double, scoring a game-high 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, to go along with three assists and three steals.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight, Herring said. “We knew if we were going to win this game, we were going to have to do it together.”
Herring was one of three Lady Cyclones in double figures, as junior Kealy Carson added 11 and junior Sydney Anderson tossed in 10.
“We knew for sure we were going to have to handle the ball, break their press and make them play a half-court offense, but the biggest thing was our offensive to defensive transition,” Herring said. “We had to stop them from getting up and down the floor, slow them down and make them play our game.”
Southeast forced 14 turnovers and converted it into 16 points.
However, it wasn’t all good on the defensive side of the floor for the Lady Cyclones.
“I thought our defense got a little soft in the middle part of the game,” Southeast coach Jennifer Scheer said. “We were not being aggressive and not moving when we should. We were giving them some pretty open shots and mainly not getting back in defensive transition. They were beating us down the floor.”
In the second quarter alone, Upton dropped 20 points on Southeast to take a 31-27 advantage into halftime.
Scheer challenged her team to get back on track defensively in the second half.
The team answered the challenge.
After allowing Upton to shoot 54.5% in the first half, the Lady Bobcats made only nine field goals in the final 20 minutes of the game, including only one in the overtime period.
Coming out of the locker room, Anderson sparked a 9-0 Lady Cyclone run. Only two minutes into the third quarter, junior Shelby Ekwall converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to put Southeast back in front 32-31.
Upton battled back late in the third quarter to take a brief 37-36 lead with 2:57 left in the quarter, but the Lady Bobcat lead was short-lived. With four seconds in the quarter, Herring capped off the frame with two more points, giving Southeast a 41-39 lead heading into the final quarter.
“It was a roller coaster ride,” Scheer said.
Starting the fourth, Herring added a pair of free throws to extend the lead to four.
“What a game. What a kid,” Scheer said of Herring. “She was tremendous on both ends of the floor. I don’t have words for it. I know she was exhausted, and I couldn’t take her off the floor when I needed to earlier. She never quit, and she gave me 110%, plus some.”
With 3:15 left in regulation, the team’s lone senior Grace Desmond scored the final Southeast points of regulation.
Upton answered with a 3-pointer to tie the game 49, and it was the final points either team scored in the fourth quarter.
“It was a fight the whole time. It took every ounce of every ability that everyone had,” Desmond said. “We all had to fight hard, stay in control of ourselves and just play ball how we do.”
It wasn’t until the 3:40 mark in overtime when Herring broke the tie in Southeast’s favor as the Lady Cyclones went on to win the team’s fifth state championship in program history.
“It’s amazing,” Desmond said. “It’s everything we’ve worked for, for the last three, four years. It’s awesome to finally achieve that.”
Leading up to the championship game on Saturday, Southeast rolled to victories over Burlington and Saratoga.
On Thursday, The Lady Cyclones defeated the Saratoga Lady Panthers 41-27.
Southeast led 16-10 after one and put the game out of reach in the second quarter, outscoring Saratoga 14-4 to lead 30-14 at halftime.
Herring led the team with 22 points and seven rebounds. Desmond had five points, while Ekwall, Anderson and Carson chipped in four apiece.
In the semifinal round, Southeast jumped on the Burlington Huskies early, cruising to a 43-20 victory.
Behind the hot hands of Anderson and Herring, the Lady Cyclones grabbed an early 6-2 lead, pushing it to double digits late in the second quarter.
Southeast never allowed Burlington to score more than six points in any quarter, holding the Lady Huskies to only 20% shooting for the game, including 16.7% in the first half.
Herring led the team again in scoring with 14 points and eight rebounds. Carson and sophomore Baylie Booth added 10 each.
The weekend also marks the end of Desmond’s career as a Lady Cyclone.
“Grace has really, really matured and has become quite the Lady Cyclone,” Scheer said. “She does a lot of things that never show up on the stat sheet, but she’s my vocal leader, bar none. She does a lot of stuff. Sometimes she’s my defensive specialist. Sometimes she’s my rebounding specialist. She does all it all as well as I can ask her to. Replacing her is going to be hard. She’s instilled a tremendous work ethic in the kids younger than her.”
“I just want to say thank you to my coaches and my team,” Desmond said fighting back tears. “They’ve made the last four years just amazing.”
The Lady Cyclones will return four starters next season as they eye another state championship run in the 2022-23 season.
“Four juniors are there, and I have a couple sophomores that have tremendous amount of talent. I’ve got some freshman who have greatly improved this year,” Scheer said. “Next year, they are just going to be a year older. Next year is a new year, and we’ll see where it goes.”
“Next year, we are going to have to do the same thing – focus on defense, teamwork, slowing ourselves down and doing what we know how to do,” Herring added.
Southeast girls wrap up the season with a 25-2 record.
“It has been a tremendous year. We’ve had some low spots as well. We faced some adversity, but these kids found a way to dig deep and grit it out, tough it out and fight through it,” Scheer said. “The amount of fight in these kids are as much as you’ll see in any set of kids. They never quit.”