By George Ferguson
Sometimes in the world of basketball, things don't always work out like they should. After pulling off big first- round wins on Thursday afternoon, both the Big Sandy Pioneers and KG KouGars were unceremoniously bounced from the boys Northern C divisional basketball tournament in two straight games at the Cut Bank High School gymnasium.
After stunning the top-ranked Dutton-Brady Diamondbacks on Thursday night, the Big Sandy Pioneers suffered a heart-breaking loss to the Judith Gap Tigers, 40-36, in Friday night's semifinal.
The Pioneers managed just four points in the first quarter against the undefeated Tigers, but then went on to outscore Judith Gap 16-10 in the second quarter to build a 20-19 halftime advantage. The Pioneers then increased their lead to 32-28 by the end of the third quarter. But in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Tigers were able to overcome a five-point deficit and hold the Pioneers scoreless in the last 90 seconds of the contest to grab the close victory and advance to Saturday night's championship game.
In all, the Pioneers scored just four points in the final period. Head coach Roy Lackner, who was in Butte coaching the Big Sandy girls team in the State C semifinals, speculated that his team may have gotten impatient down the stretch against Judith Gap.
"When you have the lead, you can afford to be patient and try to get quality shots," Lackner said. "It sounds like the kids just were not patient late in the game and it hurt us down the stretch. I feel bad for our kids and it is tough because I wasn't there to help them."
The Pioneers got 11 points from Jay Jamieson and 10 points from Gage Brumwell in the losing effort.
The Pioneers' season came to an end on Saturday morning as they were knocked out of the tournament by the Highwood Mountaineers, 58-47, in loser-out action.
After playing to a 13-13 tie in the first quarter, Highwood went on a 13-6 run to close out the half. The Mountaineers then tacked on 19 more points in the third quarter to build a 13-point lead of 45-32 heading into the final quarter. Despite outscoring Highwood 15-13 in the fourth quarter, the Pioneers could not overcome the double-digit deficit.
Big Sandy was paced by Gage Brumwell's team-high 16 points in the loss. Mason Ophus added 12 points while Chris Yirsa chipped in with 10. The Pioneers finished the season with a 15-9 overall record, and Lackner can reflect on the season in a positive light despite the disappointment of missing out on the state tournament.
"We are really disappointed with how the season ended," Lackner said. "But this team has grown and come a long way from the start of the year and we definitely had some great success."
The District 9C champion KG KouGars suffered the same fate as their counterparts from Big Sandy. The KouGars knocked off a very tough Winifred team in the first round of the tournament on Thursday afternoon, but fell to a streaking Heart Butte Warrior team in Friday night's semifinal, 63-53.
The Warriors built an early lead of 15-9 at the end of the first quarter and held a five-point lead of 25-20 at intermission. The KouGars managed to close the gap to four points at the end of the third quarter, but Heart Butte tallied 25 points in a frenzied fourth quarter and the KouGars could not keep pace.
"We never really got in synch against Heart Butte," said KG head coach Charlie Robinson. "They are the type of team that does things to take you out of what you're trying to do, and that's what happened to us. We got in some foul trouble and we shot our lowest percentage from the field that we have all season.
"But I said coming in that Heart Butte was going to be a very tough team because they have improved steadily as the season went on and now they are divisional champions," Robinson added.
In the loss to the Warriors, the KouGars got a game-high 22 points from Thomas Marshall. Richie Melby added 12 points and Casey Crites chipped in with 11.
On Saturday morning, the KouGars were not able to bounce back from their loss to Heart Butte as they were eliminated from the tourney with a 58-47 loss to Dutton-Brady.
The game with the Diamondbacks was a game of many momentum swings. The KouGars took command early as they led 18-14 after the first quarter. But the Diamondbacks outscored KG 22-15 in the second quarter to take a 36-33 lead into the locker room. The D-Backs then all but put the KouGars away in the third quarter with a 15-7 run that pushed the lead to double figures heading into the fourth quarter.
"Against Dutton-Brady, we were in some more foul trouble and that hurt us because we aren't very deep," Robinson said. "But we battled them and I thought we gave them all they could handle. In the end, we just couldn't get in the flow offensively to have a chance at the end of the game."
Crites led four KouGars in double figures with 18 points - including four three-pointers. Marshall had 14 points while Melby added 12. Luke Antonich chipped in with 10 points in the losing effort.
KG's season comes to an end with a 15-9 overall record, but Robinson has high praise for what his team accomplished at the end of the season.
"Things didn't work out for us this weekend," Robinson said. "But I told the kids that when they look back on this season, they can be very proud of what we accomplished. We won 10 games in a row and a district title and the fact that we were picked to finish fourth in our conference means that we have had a very successful season."