George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Coming into Saturday night's District 9C boys basketball championship game, the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Big Sandy Pioneers seemed to have everything to lose and a pressure weighing the equivalent to 20 elephants on their shoulders.
But as they have proven all season long, the Pioneers were resilient and forceful, capturing their first ever District 9C tournament championship with a solid win over the Box Elder Bears, 71-53, at the Havre High gymnasium.
"There was a lot of pressure on us tonight because I think everyone expected us to win and we were undefeated and if we lost we would have to play KG in a challenge game and you never know what can happen then," said Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner. "The kids responded well to that pressure and they played a good game tonight.
"This is a pretty special accomplishment for this group of kids because this is Big Sandy's first district championship in Class C and it is the first time we have been undefeated this late in this season."
After the contest, Big Sandy senior forward Gage Brumwell echoed the sentiments of his head coach.
"We definitely felt like the pressure was on us this whole week," Brumwell said. "But we knew that if we came here and played well and stuck together as a team, we could get the job done."
Having defeated Box Elder twice already this season, Lackner knew that taking advantage of his team's size advantage would be critical. The Pioneers did just that early on.
Big Sandy started the game off by going to Brumwell and senior Mason Ophus early and often inside. The Pioneers got what they wanted in the low post as Ophus scored eight points in the first stanza to build a 21-13 lead.
In the second period, Box Elder's Neal Rosette started to heat up from the outside as he hit a pair of three-pointers that cut Big Sandy's lead to four points at 29-25 with three minutes to play in the half.
But Big Sandy responded by going back to Brumwell and ripping off a 9-2 run to finish the period with a 38-27 lead.
"We knew that Box Elder just wouldn't be able to stop Mason and Gage inside," Lackner said. "Our game plan was to go inside and that would eventually open it up from the outside in the second half."
Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon also agreed that the task of guarding the Pioneer big men was daunting.
"Big Sandy played us much more physical tonight then they did earlier in the season," Bacon said. "Mason Ophus and Gage Brumwell are just so strong and they really took advantage of us down low. We were prepared for it, but our guys just couldn't get good position and they got a lot of points inside."
In the second half, Box Elder would only threaten the Pioneers one more time. Rosette reeled off eight straight points, including another pair of threes, to cut the Pioneer lead to 42-35 with five minutes left in the quarter.
But the Pioneers went to the well that is Brumwell one more time and he responded by scoring six straight points to lead the Pioneers on a 9-0 run that gave them a 53-41 lead after three quarters.
In the final stanza, the Bears were forced to launch three-pointers the rest of the game and put the Pioneers on the free-throw line. The end result was missed shots by Box Elder and an 18-point win for Big Sandy.
"We just didn't shoot the ball well at all tonight," Bacon said. "Big Sandy beat us up on the inside and they took our inside game away on offense. But we are really proud of how we played this weekend. We are still alive and are looking forward to going to the divisional tournament and making some noise down there."
The Pioneers got a game-high 28 points from Brumwell while Jay Jamieson poured in 19 points. Ophus added 12 in the win. The Bears were paced by Neal Rosette's 26 points, including five three-pointers. Tim Rosette chipped in with 10 points.
"The whole key to this win is that we took care of the ball and we did what we had to do," Lackner said. "The kids were patient and we took what Box Elder gave us and it worked out."
"We definitely accomplished some things this week," Lackner added. "Now we have to get ready to go play in a very tough divisional tournament and we're looking forward to it."
Said Brumwell: "We're definitely on a mission this season. This is a great thing for Big Sandy, but we're not done. We want to take this a lot farther."
KG defeats T-Birds in foul-filled game
On Saturday afternoon, the defending District 9C champion KG KouGars finished up a very successful season with a 65-50 win over the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds in the consolation game.
Leading 18-15 after the first quarter, the KouGars broke the game wide open midway through the second period. With three minutes left in the half, Cody Donoven picked up a loose ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup that sparked the KouGars to an 18-2 run to finish the half. The run included a 10-14 stretch from the free-throw line by the KouGars in the final two minutes.
"We ended up going to the free-throw line a lot in this game and that was really to our advantage," said KG head coach Charlie Robinson. "Hays-Lodge Pole really got themselves in foul trouble and that hurt them in the second half."
Indeed, the second half was marked by a seemingly endless parade of whistles and free throws. Early in the third quarter the T-Birds mounted a huge comeback led by three consecutive layups on three steals by point guard Robyn Doney. That stretch was part of a 14-4 run by Hays that cut the KouGar lead to six points at 44-36 with two minutes remaining in the quarter.
But that is where the fun ended for the T-Birds. Doney fouled out with 1:37 left in the period, and just seconds later freshman Lance Brockie joined him on the bench as he picked up a personal foul and a subsequent technical foul to end his night. As a result, KG was able to push its lead back to 11 points at 49-38 by quarter's end.
In the fourth quarter, the T-Birds continued to have foul troubles and picked up three more technical fouls as KG ran away with the contest at the free-throw line. The KouGars shot 20 free throws in the final six minutes of the game to earn the 15-point win and a third-place finish.
"I was really proud of the way our kids handled themselves and stayed poised in the second half," Robinson said. "Things got pretty hectic out there and our kids really stayed focused."
"I thought a big key to this was game was the play of Branden Melby," Robinson added. "As a freshman, he gave us some great minutes and played under control the whole game. And Richie Melby was unstoppable inside. He had a great game."
Richie Melby had an enormous game for the KouGars. He scored a game-high 28 points and Cody Donoven chipped in with 13 in the win. Doney led the way for the T-Birds with 15 points and Delaine Ariwite added 10.
Because of Big Sandy's win over Box Elder, KG's season came to end with a 16-6 record. While Robinson was admittedly disappointed that his season was over, he was more than pleased with how his team played in 2004.
"We lost four starters from last year's team," Robinson said. "So to come back this year and get 16 wins and get a trophy at the district tournament, that is a pretty good year."
Big Sandy (20-0) and Box Elder (15-5) will now prepare for the Northern C divisional tournament. The Northern C tourney will tip off Thursday at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Big Sandy 71, Box Elder 53 (1st)
Box Elder 13 14 14 12 - 53
Big Sandy 21 17 15 18 - 71
Box Elder - Kyle Parker 2, Aaron Henry 9, Neal Rosette 26, Tyler Henry 4, Tim Rosette 10, Dustin Bacon 2.
Big Sandy - Gage Brumwell 28, Jay Jamieson 19, Mason Ophus 12, Skylar Pearson 3, Adam Jesperson 7, Aaron Andrade 1, Mike Coxson 1.
Three-point goals - Jamieson 1, Jesperson 1, N. Rosette 5, A. Henry 1. Total fouls - Big Sandy 16, Box Elder 19. Fouled out - None. Technical fouls - A. Henry.
KG 65, Hays-Lodge Pole 50 (3rd)
KG 18 20 11 16 - 65
Hays-Lodge Pole 15 6 17 12 - 50
KG - Dan Kloppenburg 5, Branden Melby 8, Luke Antonich 9, Cody Donoven 13, Richie Melby 28, Drew Kapperud 2.
Hays-Lodge Pole - Michael Werk 6, Joe Small 2, Dwight Flansburg 2, Steven Shambo 2, Michael Gray 5, Robyn Doney 15, Lance Brockie 10, Delaine Ariwite 6, Andrew Walker 2.
Three-point goals - Kloppenburg 1, Gray 1.Total fouls - Hays-Lodge Pole 33, KG 14. Fouled out - Small, Brockie, Doney, Ariwite, Walker. Technical fouls - Walker 2, Brockie, Doney.
Hays-Lodge Pole 74, Rocky Boy 59 (lo)
Hays-Lodge Pole 24 16 19 15 - 74
Rocky Boy 19 15 10 15 - 59
Hays-Lodge Pole - Michael Werk 4, Joe Small 2, Garrett Morin 3, Delaine Ariwite 6, Cody Main 4, Andrew Walker 10, Robyn Doney 13, Michael Grey 8, Steven Shambo 6, Joel Black Elk 4, Dwight Flansburg 2, Lance Brockie 12.
Rocky Boy - Kyle Windy Boy 3, Charles Walking Child 11, Eric Watson 11, A.J. The Boy 8, Upton Whitford 4, Ivan Whitford 4, Ronnie Stump 6, Bill Watson 12.
Three-point goals: Morin, Shambo, Brockie 1, Walking Child 1.Total fouls - Hays-Lodge Pole 17, Rocky Boy 17. Fouled out - none. Technical fouls - Whitford.
KG 56, Turner 43 (lo)
Turner 4 9 13 17 - 43
KG 6 7 21 22 - 56
Turner - David Jones 14, Brandon Simons 8, Dalton Cornell 2, Duane Hofer 1, Evan Hauge 6, Clancy Kegel 12. Totals: 17 6-18.
KG - Dan Kloppenburg 12, Branden Melby 2, Drew Kapperud 14, Luke Antonich 2, Darby Donoven 4, Cody Donoven 6, Richie Melby 16. Totals: 19 13-22.
Three-point goals: Kapperud 4, D. Donoven 1, Jones 2, Kegel 1. Total fouls: Turner 23, KG 21. Fouled out: Jones, Simons, Antonich.