Jefferson High’s basketball traveled to Sweet Grass County amid a winter storm on Saturday for important conference contests. The boys came away with a key win, while the girls lost a close one to the top-ranked Lady Herders.

The boys were coming off an 81-77 victory in a make-up game February 1 over county rival Whitehall, featuring a scorching performance from Trent McMaster, who poured in 36 points. It was McMaster who led the way against Sweet Grass County, too.

The Herders put the first points on the board, but McMaster and Joey Visser hit baskets and Jake Genger added a pair of free throws to give the Panthers a 6-4 lead. They kept a one-point edge at the end of one, and a three by Zach Zody made it 17-13 lead in the second.

But neither team could gain any momentum to break the game open. Another three by Zody made it 23-20 and Jefferson was up 25-21 at the half. In the third, Tyler Harrington scored twice to give the Panthers some breathing room, and the team did a great job moving the ball around. After an assist by McMaster to Visser, Visser returned the favor — and the Panthers were up 39-32 after three.

But Sweet Grass County crept back, and Jefferson’s margin shrank to two with 3:39 remaining. Those final minutes had both sides of the gym on edge, until Visser’s old-fashioned three and a two-pointer by Braden Morris made it 49-43. From there, the Panthers held on by making free throws, finally taking the 57-51 win. McMaster led the squad with 15 points; Visser added 12, Harrington 11, Morris 7, and Zody and Genger 6.

The Lady Panthers gave the undefeated Herders a tough game. In the first period, three baskets by Rachel Van Blaricom and a free throw by Dakota Edmisten kept things tight early on, but Sweet Grass scored the final six points for a 14-7 lead. Baskets were hard to come by in the second quarter, and the Panthers found themselves down 28-16 at the half.

The third saw Jefferson stay even with the Herders: MacKenzie Layng nailed a long two-pointer, and the score was 40-28 going into the final eight minutes. Van Blaricom’s long three pointer cut the gap to 10, Cia Stuber swished a three, and Van Blaricom made another basket to make it  47-38. But Sweet Grass County held on for the 50-42 final. A very good game by the Panthers: Van Blaricom led with 17 points, Stuber 9, Edmisten 6, Sam Zody 4, Layng 3, Abbie Youde 2, and Austie May 1.

Two nights before, the Lady Panthers had tested another undefeated squad: Class C Manhattan Christian. In that one, Van Blaricom and Stuber led Jefferson on a 10-4 run to open the game. But Manhattan Christian quickly turned things around and led 18-12 at the end of the first quarter.  

The Panthers fell behind in the second quarter then made a run in the third, with Layng hitting three three-pointers in a row to pull her team to within 44-32. The Panthers outscored the Eagles 16-11 in the final period, but it wasn’t enough, and Jefferson found itself on the wrong end of a 58-48 final score. Van Blaricom finished with 14 points, Layng 12, May 7, Grace Alexander and Stuber 5, Youde and Olivia Lyon 2, and Zody 1.

The boys’ team, meanwhile, ran into a buzz saw; the Eagles showed why they are undefeated and ranked number two in Class C.  Visser started the game with an old-fashioned three, and Harrington’s three put the Panthers up 6-3. But the Eagles finished the first with a 10-4 run to go up 22-13. In the second, the Panthers pulled to within seven on a pair of baskets by McMaster, but another run by Christian put them up 41-25 at the half.

Jefferson played its best quarter in the third: Five Panthers scored as they worked the ball around for 15 points — but the gap only widened, to 58-40. Christian went on to win, 70-47. McMaster scored 15 points, Visser 12, Genger and Wade Rykal 6, Harrington 4, and Tom Meyer and Morris 2 each.

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