MONTAGUE — Montague let what would have been a big non-conference win slip away Monday, as Tri-County caught fire late in the game to snatch a 55-47 victory away from the Wildcats.

Montague (11-4) twice took the lead in the fourth quarter, but back-to-back three-pointers by Tri-County’s Ashley Bialek and Mary Siple put the visiting Vikings ahead 51-47 with under two minutes left, and Montague never scored again. Bialek ended up with a game-high 24 points.

“They hit some shots down the stretch,” Montague coach Cody Kater said. “We had a problem with (Bialek), as a guard. Our press did a good job in the third quarter, and it didn’t do a great job in the fourth quarter. They were sort of beating it a little bit and taking shots. They were missing them earlier, and they started hitting those contested jumpers.”

The Wildcats had appeared to shake off their season-long propensity for slow offensive starts in their win over Mason County Central last Friday, but it flared up again Monday, as they scored just eight first-quarter points against the Vikings’ press defense. Tri-County switched between a man-to-man and zone on the press, which threw off Montague.

“They were running around with it and we had a little bit of a difficult time understanding where to flash,” Kater said. “We did a better job towards the end, but we had eight points in the first quarter.

“We’ve continued to come out very slow, besides Friday...have continued to come out really slow in the first quarter, and I think we’ve given ourselves some trouble.”

Tri-County ended the opening quarter on a 9-1 run to go ahead 15-8.

Montague did stay on the Vikings’ heels into the third quarter, where it took the lead, 33-32, on a breakaway basket by Ally Hall. Montague, having struggled to hit shots from long distance early, relentlessly attacked the rim to great effect through most of the second half.

However, in the fourth quarter, the ‘Cats began to miss some shots from close range as well, and Tri-County caught fire to grab the lead.

“We had a difficult time finishing around the hoop when we had an opportunity to,” Kater said. “We’re struggling with that, and then we lose faith in it, and the girls started settling for outside shots. I’m not sure what we were from three-point range, but I’m guessing we were below 10 percent.”

Montague still managed to take leads twice late in the fourth, first on a Braquelle Osborne steal and basket, then moments later on a putback by Hall in response to two Viking free throws. However, the Vikes’ consecutive treys sparked a game-ending 10-1 run. It didn’t help that Montague had several key turnovers down the stretch.

“We’re fairly young, and we make mistakes like we’re young, especally in situational basketball,” Kater said. “We’ve been learning and growing throughout the season. We’ve been honest with ourselves about where we’re at. We’re trying to improve in situational basketball.”

Foul trouble also plagued Montague late in the game. Tri-County attempted 34 free throws, making 24.

TRI-COUNTY (55) Merlington 1 2-4 4, Bialek 8 7-9 24, Nagelhout 0 0-2 0, Bowen 4 5-6 14, Siple 1 2-2 5, Kelly 0 0-1 0, McNees 0 8-10 8. Totals 14 24-34 55.

MONTAGUE (47) Zamojcin 1 6-6 8, Moreau 1 2-4 5, Hall 6 1-2 13, Osborne 4 2-4 11, Flynn 1 0-0 3, Koetje 1 1-2 3, Meacham 1 2-4 4, Moore 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 14-24 47.

Tri-County....15 11 9 20 — 55

Montague.... 8 13 14 12 — 47

Three-point goals — Tri-County 3 (Bialek, Bowen, Siple), Montague 3 (Moreau, Osborne, Flynn). Total fouls — Tri-County 20, Montague 23. Fouled out — Zamojcin. JV score — Montague 56, Tri-County 35.