Pronghorns finish strong against Northwest College, secure spot in Region 9 Tournament

Gillette College’s Dasani Nesbit drives the ball Friday during a game against Northwest College at the Pronghorn Center in Gillette.

Ed Glazar
Gillette College’s Dasani Nesbit drives the ball Friday during a game against Northwest College at the Pronghorn Center in Gillette. Ed Glazar


Marija Marinkovic couldn't miss.

The Pronghorns haven't been a strong 3-point shooting team this season. Yet in the fourth quarter in a close match against Northwest College in a play-in game for the Region 9 Tournament, the freshman guard from Montenegro led the Pronghorns with three 3-pointers. The Pronghorns finished the game by outscoring the Trappers 31-17 to win 85-68 and secure their ticket to the Region 9 Tournament.

This has been one of coach Liz Lewis's most challenging seasons. The Pronghorns have battled injuries on an already depth-depleted roster. After opening conference play with a win over Laramie County Community College, the team lost seven straight games. Some starters were sent to the bench with injuries, and some players joined the team midway through the season from the other sports at the college. On top of all that, everyone is a freshman, and the team was all new to each other.

The team had to learn how to fight. They had to learn how to adapt. The Pronghorns kept at it, won three of their last four conference games and beat Northwest College twice, the latter time to make it to the Region 9 Tournament.

"They've gone through a lot of adversity, and I'm just very proud of them," Lewis said. "Every team has adversity, but they've done a really good job of overcoming that and continuing to compete."

The start of the game was back-and-forth. Qaizden Stephano worked the paint early, but the Pronghorns gave up a few steals that allowed the Trappers to score some easy buckets. The Trappers converted an and-1 and followed it with a 3-pointer to take a 13-8 lead, which the Pronghorns wouldn't be able to erase until the second quarter.

Gillette's aggressive defense served the team well in the second quarter. The Pronghorns fought their way back into it as Alyssa Beckford and Andrea Martin took some steals to the rim. Gillette took the lead with a 2-point basket from Stephano and held it through the half.

The Pronghorns held a 42-37 lead at halftime, and the team greatly benefited from some missed free throws by the Trappers.

 Dasani Nesbit didn't lead the team in points, but the forward provided big buckets as well as the typical hustle plays that have made her such an integral part of the lineup.

Northwest College started the second half with two-straight 3s to regain the lead, but the momentum wouldn't last. The Pronghorns outscored the Trappers by 8 points through the remainder of the third quarter, and Gillette College entered the final 10 minutes with a close 54-51 lead.

Marinkovic said that the energy comes from the bench. With only eight players available to play for most of the season, the team has needed the bench's energy to keep them going, and tonight was no exception.

With the game on the line, the Pronghorns left no doubt. Marinkovic led the scoring with her 3-point shooting but converted a few clutch buckets at the rim, too. She scored 15 of her 17 points in the final 10 minutes.

"It felt good," Marinkovic said of her scoring. "After halftime coming off the bench, I think I helped my team, and that was my goal."

It wasn't just Marinkovic. Martin, Nesbit and Beckford all hit triples in the final quarter. Through the game, the Pronghorns shot over 10% better from three than they have all season.

Gillette will bring their all-freshman team to the tournament, where they're hoping to keep the magic and momentum going.

"We lose Layni (Stevens) to rodeo, so our numbers will be a challenge, but they've been a challenge all year," Lewis said. "We just have to keep competing and keep doing what we do and play with intensity."