BY JOHN DUBOIS
Advancing to the semi-finals with a win over the Oakwood Lady Comets on Monday, the No. 4 seed Bismarck-Henning Lady Blue Devils encountered another familiar opponent Tuesday night when they faced the top seeded St. Joseph-Ogden Lady Spartans in IHSA Class 2A regional action at Westville.
The teams have faced each other multiple times over the last several seasons and it is the third consecutive year they have met in regional play.
The Blue Devils battled back in the second half but were never able to overcome an early deficit as the Spartans held on for a 45-33 win.
Brooke Walsh led the Blue Devils with a game-high 13 points, with Addie Voyles adding seven points.
The Blue Devils finish the season with a 9-21 record and also saw two incredible streaks come to a close with the loss.
Highlighted by a 32-win season in 2009-10, the Blue Devils had won 20 or more games for 9 consecutive seasons, and they had posted a winning record overall for 11 consecutive seasons.
“Our team started coming together in early December and I enjoyed practicing and working with this team as much as I did with some of our teams that experienced more success,” said Bismarck-Henning coach Mike Stephens. “Brooke showed what she can do offensively when she is focused in. We dressed eight players for this game, and everyone played well.”
The Blue Devils tied the game early on a basket from Voyles but never led. The Spartans began to pull away late in the first quarter and ended the period with a 16-6 lead.
SJO would lead by as many as 18 points in the second quarter, but a late basket from freshman Lindsay Andrews (six points) would cut the lead to 28-12 going into halftime.
“Lindsay looks to create offensively,” Stephens said. “She is active on the boards and her hard work has started to pay off for her.”
The Spartans would push their lead to 36-14 early in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils ended the quarter on an 8-1 run to cut the lead to 37-22 heading into the fourth.
“St. Joseph came out aggressive and their guards got to the basket early in the game,” Stephens said. “We started with that deer in the headlights look, but mid-way through the third we started playing without fear. We played harder, and Lexi Ballard made some things happen defensively.”
Bismarck-Henning would cut the lead to 39-29 on a three from Voyles, but could get no closer.
It was the final game for Ballard, who is the Blue Devils lone senior.
“After losing all five starters from last year, we knew it might be a struggle this season, and we are very glad that Lexi decided to come back out and play her senior season,” Stephens said. “A lot of people talk about leadership, but leadership is shown on the court and Lexi did that for us. She was a great example to our younger players by doing the things leaders on the floor do like taking charges and going after every loose ball.”
With seven returning players who saw significant minutes this season, Stephens was optimistic about next season.
“I like this group a lot,” he said. “They practice hard and listen well and that can take you a long way. We are focused on the things we need to do in the off season and have a chance to be a very decent team next year.”