GREAT FALLS — Losing in the first round of the Northern C boys divisional tournament on Thursday morning was a bitter pill for the Big Sandy Pioneers to swallow. But fast forward four days and the Pioneers are just one game away from reaching the Class C state tournament for the third time in the last four years.
Tonight in Great Falls, Big Sandy will take on Highwood in a Northern C challenge game, for a berth in next week’s state tournament. And the Pioneers had to take the long road to get there.
After losing to Dutton-Brady Thursday morning, Big Sandy (15-8) reeled off wins over Denton and rival Box Elder (See related story on B3) to reach Saturday night’s consolation game. And once there, the Pioneers got revenge on the Diamondbacks with a 49-44 win at the Four Seasons Arena.
“We’re pretty jacked right now,” Big Sandy senior Jessey Bailey said after Saturday night’s victory. “We expected to get here after losing in the first round. We knew that loss wasn’t a season-ender. We knew we just had to come back and play better. This means a lot to us because we have so many seniors on this team.”
The Pioneers certainly played like a team of destiny Saturday night, especially after having to knock out rival Box Elder just a few hours prior to the consolation game. Big Sandy took command early with a combined eight points from Trevor Lackner and Jerry Hanson and led 14-3 after the first quarter.
However, Thursday’s game against Dutton-Brady went right to the end, and Saturday night’s battle would be no different. Big Sandy led 16-3 early in the second stanza when Dutton-Brady’s Brody Dahlman hit three 3-pointers, sparking a 12-0 run, which cut the Pioneer lead to 20-15 at halftime.
“I thought it would come down to the end,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “We lost to them by one point in December, Thursday’s game was really close and it seems like every year Dutton-Brady is playing on Saturday night in this tournament. They have a great program and they do a great job over there. So we knew it was going to be a close game.”
And it was. Hanson hit a three to open the third quarter, but the D-Backs ran off an 8-0 run near the end and the Pioneers led just 37-33 with eight minutes to go. Then, in a wild fourth quarter, which saw Hanson and fellow starter Kaden Beck foul out, the thin Pioneers had to hang on for dear life with little-used reserves like Kyle Strutz and Bryant Jones.
But, in the end, it was Big Sandy’s seniors who still carried the day. Bailey knocked in a huge three with 2:19 to go to put the Pioneers up seven, and Zac Leader sank three critical free throws in the final :26 to secure the victory, and a chance to go to state.
“We finally made some free throws at the end of the game, and we got a few big shots to fall,” coach Lackner said. “And our bench had to help us tonight. We’re not very deep and when guys foul out, it gets a little scary. But our bench helped us tonight.
“Our kids play hard, very hard,” he added. “And they play hard all the time, and they did again tonight. So we’re happy, we’re overjoyed that we have won enough games to get to come back and play at least one more.”
Trevor Lackner led Big Sandy with a heard-earned 19 points. He was going up against Dutton-Brady star Tiegan Johnson, who scored 18, all night on both ends of the floor. Leader chipped in with nine points and Bailey Hanson and Bailey combined for 13. Beck grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds before fouling out. The Pioneers made just two three’s on the night, but they did shoot a solid 50 percent from the field and they out-rebounded the D-Backs this time around, something they didn’t do on Thursday.
The Pioneers reached Saturday night’s consolation game with a thrilling win over Box Elder Saturday morning. But to even get that far, the Pioneers had to rebound from Thursday’s loss to Dutton-Brady with a loser-out win Friday morning.
Going up against upstart Denton, the Pioneers were up to the task however. Big Sandy beat the Trojans 61-47 as the Pioneers dominated the first half and led 29-17 at the break.
In the loser-out win, the Pioneers got 20 points from Leader and 13 from Hanson.
And now Big Sandy is just one win away from going to state. The Pioneers have to face Highwood tonight, after the Mountaineers () lost to Roy-Winifred in Saturday night’s championship game. And though tonight’s challenge game will be a tough one, the Pioneers are excited and they’ll be ready to go.
“We’re happy to get a shot,” Bailey said. “Highwood beat us last year so we look forward to playing them.
“We get another game and a chance to go to state,” coach Lackner added. “It doesn’t matter who we play, because every game is going to be tough at this tournament. Our kids deserve a lot of credit because they’ve come back and beaten some good teams…Box Elder is a very good team and Dutton-Brady is tough. So we’re excited. We’re still in this.”
Tonight’s Northern C challenge game between the Pioneers and Mountaineers will begin at 5 at Great Falls Central High School. The winner will advance to the Class C state tournament March 7-9 in Bozeman.
Big Sandy 49, Dutton-Brady 44 (3rd)
D-B 3 12 18 11 – 44
Big Sandy 14 6 17 12 – 49
D-B — Chase Rossmiller 8, Austin Storle 2, Tiegan Johnson 18, Justin Fritz 2, Brody Dahlman 9, Braxton Hasner 5. Totals: 13 13-20.
Big Sandy — Jerry Hanson 7, Trevor Lackner 19, Kaden Beck 4, Zac Leader 9, Kyle Strutz 4, Jessey Bailey 6. Totals: 19 9-17.
Halftime: Big sandy 20-15. 3-pointers: D-B 5-23 (Rossmiller 1, Johnson 1, Dahlman 3), Big Sandy 2-13 (Hanson 1, Bailey 1). Rebounds: D-B 30 (Storle 6), Big Sandy 31 (Beck 16). Fouls: D-B 18, Big Sandy 16. Fouled out: Beck, Hanson. Techincal Fouls: Hanson.
Big Sandy 61, Denton 47 (lo)
Big Sandy 14 15 12 20 — 61
Denton 8 9 14 16 — 47
Big Sandy — Jerry Hanson 13, Geno Menard 2, Trevor Lackner 7, Kaden Beck 9, Zac Leader 20, Kyle Strutz 6, Jessey Bailey 2. Totals: 27 5-10.
Denton — Mitch Ward 5, Jake Gremaux 9, Austin Morris 5, Kendall Carpenter 24, Tyler Lee 2, Tom Grubb 2. Totals: 14 13-18.
Total fouls: Big Sandy 16, Denton 14. Fouled out: none. 3-pointers: Hanson 2, Ward 1, Gremaux 1, Carpenter 4.