As far as Maple Valley High School coach Jeff Miller is concerned, there are few post players with the offensive skill set of Rylee Nudell.
"When she gets the ball facing the basket, there are not too many people out there who can stop her," Miller said about the freshman, who scored her 1,000th point earlier this month. "She's got an extremely explosive first step, so she can get by that one defender, and if that help-side defense isn't there right away, and even if it is there, she can maneuver herself around them to make the layup, and a lot of times get fouled in the process."
Though the Valley City High School defenders did their best to contain her in Saturday's Barnes County Girls Basketball Tournament championship game at W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse, Nudell took the brunt of the responsibility for her team, finishing with 31 points and 16 rebounds to help the Raiders win 46-43 in overtime.
It's the second consecutive BCT championship for the Maple Valley girls, who also beat the Hi-Liners last year in the tournament championship.
Per the usual for the teams, it was another nail biter, with Maple Valley overcoming an early deficit, tying it with a minute left to send it to overtime, where the Raiders got an early bit of momentum and rode it the rest of the way despite never leading by more than three points.
Similar to the first time the teams played this year — a 63-53 overtime win for the Hi-Liners Dec. 17 — the game came down to a slight bit of momentum early in the overtime period.
Cassie Pautz got it started for the Raiders by hitting her only 3-pointer of the game
a minute into overtime to give Maple Valley a 42-39 lead that they never lost.
Valley City's Claire Olson, who led the Hi-Liners with 17 points, provided a counter to the Raiders' scoring, hittting a layup to make it 42-41.
When Nudell hit a layup with 1:40 left to make it 44-41, it was Olson that responded with a midrange-jumper to make it 44-43.
She even had a look at layup in the final four seconds, but missed it. It was rebounded by the Raiders and Abbie Tinjum was fouled with 1.9 seconds, hitting both free throws to put it away.
"Just because of how we've played each other over the last few years, I knew it was going to be a tight game and come down to the end," VCHS coach Jim McDaniel said. "We got a great look at the end with under 20 seconds, it didn't fall.
"I thought we played our hearts out."
Nudell said the difference in the overtime period Saturday, as opposed the one a month earlier, was the experience the Raiders have had since that game.
"We've played some tougher teams than we did at the beginning and we knew we just had to work harder and fight through it," she said. "We had to dig deep."
Aside from overtime, the game had different paces in the first and second halves.
The first two quarters had each team put up strong offensive numbers with Valley City leading 27-25 at halftime. The second half, though, slowed down as the Raiders outscored Valley City 14-12 to tie it 39-39 at the end of regulation.
Part of it was simply in shooting. Valley City got the first points of the game on free throws by Dierra Diegel, then jumped out to a 10-2 lead behind a 3-pointers from Jessica Denholm, a midrange shot from Madison Taylor, and a 3 from Megan McDaniel.
Nudell got her first points in the game with 5 minutes left in the quarter, but the lead was extended back to eight points by Olson. Nudell then scored four straight to make it 12-8 in Valley City's favor. Diegel and Tinjum both hit layups to give Valley City a 14-10 lead after the first.
Nudell then opened the second quarter with four straight points to tie 14-14 with 6:48 left, until Olson responded with a 3-pointer to get the lead back. Nudell continued scoring and gave Maple Valley a 20-19 lead with 3:56 left in the half, which Tinjum upped to 22-19.
Olson eventually hit three layups to tie it 25-25 with 1:31 left. Olson ended the half with a pass to Madison Taylor, who hit a layup to make it 27-25.
Olson finished the half 5-5 from the floor, including her 3-pointer, for 11 points. Nudell had 17 points at halftime.
The second half had the slowing score down substantially as Valley City got points from Denholm and McDaniel to up the lead to 35-29 by the end of the third quarter.
Nudell did the majority of the work for Maple Valley, scoring 12 of their 14 second half points as the Raiders worked to tie it. The only bucket she didn't make in the second half was the last one of regulation, which was a layup by Megan Kasowski to tie it 39-39 with a minute left.
Though both teams had chances to score in the final minute, neither could as it went to overtime.
Though Nudell finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds, to lead Maple Valley, Jim McDaniel was pleased with how his defenders handled her.
"I thought we did a nice job over stretches of keeping her from getting the ball and things like that," he said, specifically crediting Mariah Olstad and Dierra Diegel, though other girls chipped in at times.
The second-highest scoring Maple Valley player, Tinjum, had six points.
Valley City was led in scoring by Olson, who had 17 points and was the only VCHS starter not named to the All-Tournament team.
"Voting and all that goes in in the middle of our game and she's having her best game of the tournament as we're playing," McDaniel said. "She would been well deserving of that too."
Denholm finished the game with 10 points and Dierra Diegel led the Hi-Liners with eight rebounds.
Despite the loss, Jim McDaniel was happy with how the tournament went for his team.
"That's how a championship game should end up —tight and coming right down to the end," he said.
Both coaches called the game "fun" and Miller hopes his girls can learn from the atmosphere of it.
"It's good to get this kind of atmopshere because we set our goals at the beginning of the season and this year, they're pretty high," Miller said. "I just told the girls to remember this atmosphere, remember this feeling of winning in a tournament, learn from it and take it into March."