Pine River girls celebrate Highland Conference title

LEROY —  Pine River started the season out at 0-2 and there was some indication it would be a challenging year for the Bucks.

But 17 games later, they ended the regular season at 16-3 overall and 13-1 in the Highland for the league crown.

The Bucks had two wins last week. They clinched the title outright with a 60-19 victory over Evart at home on Friday. Julie Justin scored 16 points while Kierra Justin added 14.

“I thought we were a little sloppy, which I expected a little bit after a big game on Tuesday,” Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said. “We didn’t have the concentration we normally do off the bat. We turned it over a little more. I was happy with our effort. The girls played hard.”

On Feb. 23, a 44-30 win over Lake City clinched at least a title tie. It was the second win of the season over Lake City. The only two losses by the Trojans in the league were to Pine River.

“We played hard the first half,” Ruppert said. “We didn’t shoot well. We rebounded well and played defense. We played hard and that kept us in the game.

“We came out (in the second half) and started hitting a few shots. Down the stretch, we made our free throws. Our defense was strong all night.”

Justin scored 14 points in that game and Logan Powell added 10 points. Kierra Justin had 16 rebounds and nine points.

“I didn’t expect us to go through our conference season with one loss,” Ruppert said. “We worked hard on our defense. That got better and our offense started happening. We just needed some time to get used to playing without Kassy.”

He was referring to All-Stater Kassy Nelson, who graduated the previous season.

The Bucks are at McBain this week for the Class C districts and will play Manton on Wednesday in the semifinal at 6 p.m. The title game is 7 p.m. on Friday.

“For us, we have to rebound and have to play hard on defense,” Ruppert said. “The last half of the season, we’ve done a good job of that. Offensively, we have to run the floor. We have to get a certain number of points off our fast break. I like where we’re at. We’re playing fairly well.”