By Dan Kelly EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – In their first conference game of the season, the Lady Big Horns lost to White Sulphur Springs by just a single point before a packed gym.

Students, parents and community members were there to cheer the girls on Dec. 15 as they played a close and hard-fought game against the 3-3 Hornets.

Led by Head Coach Ausha Cole, a former point guard at Montana State University, and assistant coaches Jaimey Hayes and Sam Lightbody, there are 10 girls on Lone Peak’s roster this year, with five freshmen joining the squad. EBS will report on the young team’s progress as the season unfolds.

As starters K.P. Hoffman, Jay Cole, Solae Swenson, Emma Flach and Ivy Hicks took the floor, the atmosphere in the gym was upbeat and excited. Senior post Hoffman scored Lone Peak’s first basket, followed by a 3-ball from sophomore guard Flach, but the Hornets edged ahead to an early 10-5 lead. The two teams traded points down the stretch, and as the first quarter drew to a close, the score stood 14-11, White Sulphur Springs’ lead.

The Lady Big Horns pulled ahead early in the second quarter, bolstered by junior post Solae Swenson’s 15-foot jump shot from the baseline. Swenson followed her jumper with a put-back layup on an ensuing possession to give Lone Peak a 15-14 lead. Freshman guard Sarah Wilson added two points to keep the lead at 18-16 with 2:24 on the clock.

Clamping down on their man-to-man defense, the Lady Big Horns held White Sulphur Springs to just five points in the second quarter, all of them scored by Megan Ogle, who led the Hornets with 12 points. Assistant Coach Sam Lightbody said the two teams matched up well and man-to-man defense was working for Lone Peak, but the Lady Big Horns came up short on the boards. “[The Hornets] were a strong rebounding team. They outperformed us on rebounding,” Lightbody said, adding that they’ll be working on defensive footwork and boxing out in upcoming practices.

The two teams traded baskets to open the second half, both squads scrapping for loose balls and hustling up and down the court. With 4:41 remaining in the third quarter, senior guard Jay Cole took a pass from Wilson and made a tough layup on which she was fouled. She converted the free-throw opportunity to give Lone Peak a 23-21 lead.

A long 3-pointer by Flach brought the score 26-23, but the Hornets equalized with a foul shot conversion of their own by second leading scorer, Kendel Jones. As the quarter drew to a close, Cole sunk another 3- pointer in the final seconds to bring the Lady Big Horns within three points of the Hornets.

Shots weren’t falling for either team heading into the fourth quarter, and the Hornets stretched the lead to six points as the game began to draw to a close. Not content to go quietly into the night, Lone Peak battled back with Swenson adding another key baseline jumper and Hoffman duking it out on the low post for the Lady Big Horns’ second foul shot conversion of the night.

With less than a minute left on the clock, the teams were neck and neck, Big Horns trailing 38-37 to the tough team from Meagher County. A series of tactical fouls in the final minute kept the Big Horns battling, but when the final whistle blew, the Hornets escaped with a victory, 38-37. “Our team played really hard and can be proud of their effort. We came up just short in the closing minutes,” Lightbody said.

In other news, it might be a little while until Big Horns fans see Ausha Cole’s face on the sidelines; she had a baby girl on Dec. 18.

The Lady Big Horns’ will play an away game against Shields Valley on Friday, Dec. 22, followed by a Friday, Jan. 5 home game against Twin Bridges, a powerhouse team from the neighboring conference.