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Valkyries complete perfect 26-0 season, capture first-ever state hoops title

by JEREMY WEBER
For the Eagle | March 15, 2023 11:55 AM

While Saturday’s title game against Big Timber was never really in question for Bigfork, there were some tense moments on the road to the Valkyries first ever state basketball title in Great Falls over the weekend.

The Vals overcame a tough matchup against Baker in the opening round Thursday before figuring out how to handle Huntley Project and the Red Devil’s outstanding guard Paige Lofing in the semifinals Friday.

It was all Bigfork in the title game as the Valkyries jumped out to an 11-point first quarter lead and never looked back on their way to the title and a 25-0 season.

“This has been an amazing year. We all wanted a state title really badly and thought we had a special opportunity with this special group of girls to get it done,” head coach Cortnee Gunlock said. “To see them fulfill that dream was unbelievable.”

The Valkyries survived their first true test of the season Thursday as they opened the State B Tournament against the Baker Spartans.

Baker scored the first two baskets of the contest, but the Valkyries answered with an 11-2 run to go up 11-6 before settling for a 15-14 advantage after one quarter.

With Braeden Gunlock and Scout Nadeau battling foul trouble, the game remained tight in the second quarter as Bigfork continued to battle relentless Baker full-court pressure.

Bigfork led by four late in the frame, but a steal and layup followed by a three at the first-half buzzer put the Spartans up 22-21 at the break.

The Bigfork defense came alive in the third quarter, leading to several fast break layups that put the Vals up 36-27 heading into the fourth quarter, where the Vals outscored Baker 16-11 to earn a 52-38 win.

“I thought we handled the pressure of that game well, honestly better than I expected,” Cortnee Gunlock said. “We definitely came in with some nerves, but we dug deep defensively and kept them in check. We didn’t panic and we got the job done.”

Bigfork scored 24 points off Baker turnovers in the win as Braeden Gunlock led the way with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six steals while Nadeau added 12 points and four boards.

Maddi Chappuis put in seven points and added six rebounds while Ava Davey scored five, Callie Gembala and Ellie Jordt both scored four and Paeten Gunlock added two points and eight steals.

The Valkyries defense held Spartan freshman phenom Madison O’Connor to just seven points in the loss. She came into the contest averaging nearly 30 points per game.

It was a battle of the stars in the semifinal round as Braeden Gunlock and the Valkyries defeated Lofing and the Huntley Project Red Devils 56-47.

Lofing finished with 28 points and nine rebounds for Huntley Project, but was outshined by Braeden Gunlock’s 33 points, 17 rebounds and four steals for the Valkyries.

“We wanted to hold Lofing to less than she scored, but she is just a tough player to guard,” Cortnee Gunlock said. “For us to be able to shut everyone else down was key for us. Lofing may have scored 28, but it was a tough 28 points. We made her work for every one of them.”

Bigfork led 14-11 after one quarter of play, but the Red Devils came back to take a 15-14 lead with 5:22 to go in the first half.

A Davey three put the Vals up for good moments later, but the Red Devils would not go quietly.

Bigfork led 30-22 at the half and scored the first seven points of the third to go up 37-22, but Huntley Project fought its way back into the game and cut the Bigfork lead to just 40-37 heading into the fourth quarter.

Bigfork added to its lead early in the fourth, but Lofing answered to cut the lead to 50-45 with 1:00 to play.

The Gunlock sisters hit key free throws down the stretch as Bigfork held on to win by nine.

Braeden Gunlock’s big game led the way for the Valkyries while Davey used a number of fast-break layups to score 11 and also grabbed seven steals in the win.

Nadeau finished with seven points and four rebounds in the win while Chappuis added three points and seven boards while Paeten Gunlock had two points.

The Valkyries put the finishing touches on their undefeated season in the title game Saturday, jumping out to a 14-3 lead over Big Timber in the first quarter before extending that lead to 17 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Herders made a late push, but the Valkyries easily held on for a 49-37 victory and a state title.

“I feel like we finally settled in a little bit in the title game and were playing like I knew we could,” Cortnee Gunlock said. “We weren’t overlooking Big Timber, but we honestly felt like we had already played the two toughest teams in the tournament.”

Braeden Gunlock once again led the way for the Vals with 22 points and six rebounds while Nadeau finished with seven points and 11 boards and Paeten Gunlock added seven points, five assists and two steals.

Gembala had five points and five rebounds and Chappuis and Davey each scored four.

For the Valkyries three seniors, the title was the culmination of an incredible four-year journey.

“Maddi, Scout and Ellie have bought into my system since they were freshman and getting them a state title as seniors was amazing,” Cortnee Gunlock said. “They set the goal as freshmen to win a state title and I am so glad we were able to get one for them.”