By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Any time Box Elder and Rocky Boy meet on a basketball floor, the game is played with a little more intensity.
It doesn't matter if one team is undefeated and the other hasn't won a single game. Both teams play with a fury reserved for championship games.
Such is the life of rivals.
However, when the Bears and Northern Stars hook up during the District 9C tournament that intensity is increased even more.
It was no different during Tuesday night's game as third-seeded Box Elder dropped sixth-seeded Rocky Boy 71-55 in 9C tourney first-round action at the Havre High gymnasium.
It was yet another example of the passion and ferocity with which both teams play when they hook up.
Rocky Boy rode a wave emotion early on in front of very large and boisterous crowd, matching the higher-seeded Bears shot for shot and play for play.
Box Elder grabbed an early 7-0 lead and looked early on like the game might turn into a blowout as was the case in the regular season meetings.
But Rocky Boy answered as Kyle Windy Boy and A.J. The Boy combined to score 14 first-quarter points to take a 20-17 lead at the end of the quarter.
Despite the initial burst from Rocky Boy, Box Elder took the punch and fought back in the second quarter.
Senior Tim Rosette scored eight points inside on a variety of moves and Neal Rosette, Tyler Henry, Kyle Parker and Jayson Hawk all added three-pointers as the Bears' offense started to come to life.
But the difference came defensively for Box Elder as it limited Rocky Boy to just four points in the first six minutes of the period, taking a 39-27 lead.
"I thought we were a little lazy defensively in the first quarter," said Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon. "I had to remind them that we can't give up easy shots to anyone."
Besides the reminder, Bacon switched from a half-court trap to a full-court press, which bothered the turnover-plagued Stars. Rocky Boy's first-quarter lead reversed into a 12-point deficit at halftime.
"We just wanted to give them a different look," Bacon said. "They were getting some easy shots against our half-court trap. We knew that we could get some turnovers if we pressured them."
Box Elder continued with that same pressure to start the second half and all but the Stars away with a 15-5 third quarter.
Indeed, Rocky Boy was its own worst enemy, committing a multitude of turnovers - most of them being careless passes against the Bears' pressure.
Windy Boy's basket inside to open the half cut the Box Elder lead to 42-32. But the Stars went on a massive scoring drought, not scoring agains until th 2:18 mark when Charles Walking Child sank a three-pointer to end the dry spell.
But the damage was already done as Box Elder held a 57-35 lead at the end of the third quarter.
"Once we started pressuring them, we really got going," Bacon said. "We were able to get some steals and some easy baskets."
With his starters largely ineffective, Rocky Boy head coach Martin Parker went to his bench in the fourth quarter. The Stars reserves made a nice 9-0 to start the quarter on a pair of baskets from Ronnie Stump and a tough layup from Ivan Whitford.
The Stars whittled the lead down 60-49 on another short jumper from Whitford with 3:10 left to play. However, that's as close as they would get.
Box Elder answered as Neal Rosette made a nifty pass inside to Tim Rosette for a quick score and Aaron Henry converted a pair of easy layups off steals to bump the lead back to 22 points.
"There's no quit in Rocky Boy," Bacon said. "They're a young team and they battled to the end. The came in with that nothing-to-lose attitude and played hard."
Box Elder had all five of its starters finish in double figures led by Tim Rosette's 22 points. Tyler Henry finished with 13 points, Kyle Parker with 12 and Aaron Henry with 11. Neal Rosette chipped in with 10 points and had a solid floor game, handling the point guard duties. The scoring balance was something that really pleased Bacon.
"It's really important for us to have that balance," he said. "We didn't have that early in the year, but this last six or seven games we really have been balanced."
And the reason for the change?
"We're playing very unselfish basketball," he added. "Neal is a very good passer and I think our kids really feed off of his unselfishness."
Rocky Boy got 13 points from Windy Boy and 12 from The Boy in the loss. The Stars will move into the loser-out bracket where they will face the Blue Sky Eagles tonight at 7 p.m.
Box Elder moves into Thursday's semifinal against KG in a rematch of last year's semifinal in which the KouGars upset the Bears 62-55.
"I know our returning kids have really been looking forward to another shot at KG," Bacon said. "Last year hurt them and I think that we were focusing so much on KG that we overlooked Rocky Boy a little."
But Bacon believes the difference this year will be that Box Elder will have a game under its belt, unlike last year when the Bears had a first-round bye.
"It's good to have that came under your belt," he said. "You come and break a sweat and get used to the gym. It's tough to open the tournament up against a good team right away."
Box Elder 71, Rocky Boy 55
Rocky Boy 20 10 5 20 - 55
Box Elder 17 25 15 15 - 71
Rocky Boy (5-14) - Kyle Windy Boy 13, Charles Walking Child 7, Eric Watson 3, A.J. the Boy 12, Ivan Whitford 9, Marty Watson 3.
Box Elder (6-13) - Kyle Parker 12, Aaron Henry 11, Neal Rosette 10, Tyler Henry 13, Tim Rosette 22, Jason Hawk 3.
Three-point goals - T. Henry 4, N. Rosette 3, Parker 2, A. Henry 1, Hawk 1, Walking Child 1, The Boy 2, Whitford 1. Totals fouls - Box Elder 20, Rocky Boy 14. Fouled out - none.