By George Ferguson
As the top two seeds, the Blue Sky Eagles and Box Elder Bears did not expect to be playing Saturday afternoon in the consolation game of the District 9C tournament. Nevertheless, the two teams battled down to the wire as the Eagles edged the Bears 60-57 to garner third- place honors at the Havre High gymnasium.
The contest was decided in a torrid fourth quarter, which the Bears began with a three-point lead.
Blue Sky went on an 11-2 run that was sparked by three three-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor - two of which came from senior sharpshooter Jon Lipp. The run allowed the Eagles to build a nine-point lead of 52-43 with just under three minutes to play in the contest.
But the Bears showed the resilience they have shown all season. Box Elder chipped away at the Blue Sky lead to trail by just four points with :50 remaining in the game. Following an Eagle turnover, Bears center Dustin Sunchild drilled a crucial three-pointer from the left corner to pull his team within one point at 58-57.
After being fouled, Blue Sky's Ryan Wells made one of two foul shots. Trailing by two, the Bears had 16 seconds to either tie or win the game. Unfortunately, Neal Rosette's three-pointer from the top of the circle came up short and the Bears ran out of time.
"It wasn't the shot we wanted coming out of the timeout," said Box Elder head coach Bobby Small. "We wanted to go inside, but it was cut off. Neal had a good look at the basket. It just didn't go in."
Blue Sky head coach Brian Campbell was almost lost for words following his team's emotional triumph over the Bears.
"Box Elder came into this tournament ranked 10th in the state," Campbell said. "And they showed why in this game. But I am so proud of our kids because they fought the whole game. Our seniors led us to a great win today for this team. I have never been more proud of a team."
The contest was a seesaw affair leading up to the wild fourth-quarter finish. The Bears jumped out early in the first quarter, but Blue Sky stormed back on a 9-0 run to take a 15-10 first-quarter advantage. In the second quarter, the Bears outscored Blue Sky, 12-8, to pull within one at halftime at 23-22. The Bears then used a 10-0 run in the third quarter, sparked by two three-pointers from Rosette, to pull ahead, 38-37, heading into the fourth.
Jon Lipp led the way for the Eagles with a game-high 23 points, including five threes. McKinley added 14 and Wells chipped in with 12. The Bears got 18 points from Neal Rosette and 10 points apiece from Tim Rosette and Dane Healy.
After the contest, both coaches commended their players for never quitting even though the season could potentially be over for both teams.
"We are a senior-orientated team," Campbell said. "And every time we got up, these kids knew that Box Elder would come back. But guys like Jon Lipp and Mitch McKinley just kept attacking and they were not going to be denied today."
Said Small: "This is a great group of kids and I am proud of them for fighting all the way to the end. It has been a great season for us, but we just hit a point in this tournament where the big shot wouldn't fall for us. That happens sometimes in basketball. But I am really proud of the effort these guys gave all week."
With the fourth-place finish, the Bears end their season with an 18-4 record. Because KG defeated Big Sandy in the championship game, Blue Sky was unable to challenge Big Sandy after losing to them in the semifinals.