By George Ferguson
District 9C teams put their best foot forward on Thursday in the first round of the Northern C Divisional boys basketball tournament in Cut Bank. The KG KouGars survived a first round meeting with Winifred while the Big Sandy Pioneers shocked the top-ranked Dutton Brady Diamondbacks as both 9C squads advanced to tonight's semifinals.
In the final game of the evening, the Pioneers rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half to pull off a stunning 68-66 upset over the previously unbeaten Diamondbacks.
The Pioneers trailed by 14 points with three minutes left in the third quarter, but went on an 18-2 run that carried over into the fourth period. In the final minute of the game, Dutton-Brady managed to pull within one point at 66-65 on a three-pointer from Colby Bliss. But Jay Jamieson was able to knock down two free-throws to push the lead to 68-65. On the ensuing possession, the Pioneers fouled Bliss with one second remaining on the clock. Bliss made the first freethrow and intentionally missed the second, Dutton-Brady got the rebound but was unable to put it back in, allowing Big Sandy to preserve the two-point win.
Jamieson, who made 8-10 free-throws in the game's final two minutes, scored a career-high 30 points including four three-pointers. Big Sandy also got 20 points from Gage Brumwell while Mason Ophus chipped in with 10.
The D-Backs were paced by Reid Fleishman's 20 points and Bliss chipped in with 19 points - including four threes. The victory moves the Pioneers into tonight's semi-final where they will take on another undefeated foe in Judith Gap.
Earlier on Thursday afternoon, the KG KouGars used a strong defensive effort as well as a 15-point performance from Casey Crites to take care of the Winifred Red Raiders, 49-44.
The KouGars grabbed a 13-5 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Winifred went a run of 17-13 in the second period to pull within four points at halftime at 26-22.
The teams then played to a 12-12 tie in the third quarter, but the Red Raiders went cold in the fourth quarter as they went over four minutes without a field goal in the final period.
Crites' game-high 15 points included two three-pointers. The KouGars also got 10 points apiece from Richie Melby and Tyler Kapperud. The Red Raiders were led by Steve Foran with 11 points and Boone Shirey added 10 in the losing effort.
The KouGars will now face the Heart Butte Warriors in a semifinal matchup tonight. The Warriors upset the second-ranked Highwood Mountaineers on Thursday afternoon to move into the semifinal round.
The semifinals will tip off tonight at 6:30 p.m. when KG takes on the Warriors. Big Sandy and Judith Gap will square off at 8 p.m. at the Cut Bank High School gymnasium