By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
GREAT FALLS - For the second straight season, a District 9C team will hold the Northern C divisional championship trophy in boys basketball. The 2005 Northern C title belongs to the remarkable Rocky Boy Stars after they defeated the Winifred Red Raiders, 50-46, in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Rocky Boy's win Saturday night continued the team's remarkable turnaround from a year ago when it won just four games. Now the Stars have captured the District 9C and Northern C championships and are headed to the Class C state tournament next week in Great Falls.
"This is really special what these kids have achieved," Rocky Boy head coach Andy Smith said. "I am just so happy for all of the kids who were here for the tough times and now they are getting a chance to turn things around and they are making the most of it."
The Stars' divisional championship did not come nearly as easily as the district title they captured the previous weekend in Havre. Rocky Boy outlasted a very dangerous Geyser team on Friday night to reach the championship game.
And Winifred proved early on that the Stars would have to work extremely hard in order to continue their magical run. The Red Raiders withstood an early Rocky Boy charge that was led by Charles Walking Child, and took an 18-15 lead after the first quarter of play. From that point, the game turned into a defensive struggle as the two teams combined for just 14 points in the second quarter, with Winifred clinging to a 24-23 lead at the break.
The Stars didn't regain the lead until the three-minute mark in the third period when Ivan Whitford connected on a long 3-pointer that gave his team a brief 32-30 lead. Winifred was able to tie the game on a Steve Foran lay-in with seconds remaining in the third period.
In the fourth quarter the Stars gained the cushion they needed behind the unstoppable play of Walking Child. Winifred struggled to guard him all night and he made four straight free throws to up Rocky Boy's lead to 45-39 with less than four minutes to go.
The Raiders did have one final push left in them. They capitalized on a pair of Rocky Boy turnovers and cut the Rocky Boy lead back down to one point, 45-44, with 56 seconds left in the game. From there the game was decided on the free-throw line and Rocky Boy senior guard Jesse Colliflower fittingly cemented the game and a spot in the state tournament. Colliflower calmly made five straight free throws in the final minute of the game to give the Stars the slim victory.
"I just have to credit all of the hard work in the gym when I was younger," Colliflower said. "I used to shoot a lot of free throws alone when I was young, knowing that I would be in this position some day, and that is what I was thinking about tonight."
"But I have to give all the credit to my teammates," he added. "We have all worked so hard to get here and all of our guys did a great job of keeping our composure when the game got close at the end."
While Colliflower may have only scored nine points on the night, none were bigger than the five free throws he made down the stretch. Walking Child was the only Rocky Boy player to reach double figures, with 16 points. The 6-3 senior also grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds. Winifred got 17 points apiece from Foran and Garrett Carr.
"We didn't play our best game by any means," Smith said of the close win. "We made some really bad passes and we turned the ball over a ton. But the kids stayed focused and played really good defense when it mattered the most, and I am proud of them for that."
Rocky Boy (21-1) will now advance to the state tournament on March 10, which will also be held at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The Red Raiders will play tonight in a challenge game at CMR High School against Geyser for the right to join the Stars.
"This was a tough tournament for us," Smith said. "Both Geyser and Winifred are very good teams and they both tested us. But hopefully we can go back to practice and get ready to play at the state tournament. But no matter what, we are definitely excited about this win and being divisional champions."
Said Colliflower: "All the guys on this team that were here when we were losing have paid the price to get here. This is very special that we can do this together, and hopefully we have three more good games left in us."
Rocky Boy will be the only 9C team at the state C tournament next week. The Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds could never fully recover from their heartbreaking loss to Heart Butte in Thursday's opening round.
The T-Birds initially bounced back and defeated the Highwood Mountaineers on Friday in loser-out action, 77-62. In that game the T-Birds got their usual balanced scoring attack, with 10 players scoring five or more points. Delaine Ariwite led the way for the Thunderbirds with 12 points.
On Saturday morning however, the T-Birds' luck ran out as they were bounced from the tournament by the Geyser Wranglers, 73-62. Hays-Lodge Pole ended its season with a 19-6 overall record.
The Class C state boys basketball tournament will get underway on March 10 at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Rocky Boy 50 Winifred 46 (1st)
Winifred 18 6 10 12 -46
Rocky Boy 15 8 11 16 -50
Winifred - Steve Foran 17, Andy Heller 2, Garrett Carr 17, Logan Heggem 2, Brian Foran 8. Totals 20 4-6.
Rocky Boy - Jesse Colliflower 9, Charles Walking Child 16, A.J. The Boy 4, James Burns 8, Joe Small 4, Ivan Whitford 3, Nate Rock 6. Totals 18 13-23.
Total fouls - Winifred 18, Rocky Boy 10. Three-point goals - Carr, B. Foran, Whitford. Rebounds - Winifred 26 (B. Foran 10), Rocky Boy 36 (Walking Child 13).
Geyser 73 Hays-Lodge Pole 62 (lo)
Geyser 13 18 21 22 - 73
Hays-Lodge Pole 13 12 18 19 - 62
Geyser - Trevor Annala 2 0-1 4, Brock Hansen 7 5-10 19, Ryan Neumann 6 8-8 25, Andy Widhalm 1 8-8 11, Jacob Noland 0 1-2 1, Matt Neumann 4 2-2 13. Totals 20 24-31.
Hays-Lodge Pole - Steven Shambo 5 2-2 16, Delaine Ariwite 1 0-0 2, Robyn Doney 6 1-1 13, Dwight Flansburg 2 0-2 5, Garrett Morin 3 0-0 8, Clayburn Grant 2 0-0 4, Vince Fortin 2 3-3 7, William Granados 1 0-0 2, Lance Brockie 2 1-2 5. Totals 24 7-10.
Fouls - Geyser 14, Hays-Lodge Pole 23. Fouled out - Annala, Ariwite, Doney. 3-point goals - R. Neumann 5, Widhalm, M. Neumann, Shambo 4, Flansburg, Morin. Rebounds - Geyser 29 (R. Neumann 7), Hays-Lodge Pole 30 (Doney 9).
Hays-Lodge Pole 77 Highwood 62 (lo)
Highwood 11 14 18 19 - 62
Hays-Lodge Pole 17 16 21 23 - 77
Highwood - Reid Edwards 4, Tanner Ripley 12, Doug Hartman 3, David Schipf 3, Tyler Pasha 7, Joey Semansky 2, Brian Davison 9, Bret Bahnmiller 18, Troy Kotthoff 4. Totals: 24 10-15.
Hays-Lodge Pole - Steven Shambo 12, Delaine Ariwite 6, Robyn Doney 9, Dwight Flansburg 8, Garrett Morin 5, Kelly Healy 4, Clayburn Grant 6, Cody McCabe 6, William Granados 5, Joel Blackelk 6, Lance Brockie 10. Totals: 30 13-20.
Total fouls: Highwood 14, Hays-Lodge Pole 16. Fouled out: none. Three-point goals: Hartman, Schipf, Davison, Bahnmiller, Shambo, Morin, Granados, Blackelk.
Rocky Boy 75 Geyser 63(sf)
Geyser 11 10 15 27 -63
Rocky Boy 21 10 21 23 -75
Geyser - Trevor Annala 0 0-0 0, Brock Hansen 8 3-7 20, Ryan Neumann 2 1-2 7, Andy Widhalm 2 0-0 4, Matt Neumann 10 4-4 32. Totals 22 8-13.
Rocky Boy - Jesse Colliflower 5 1-2 13, Charles Walking Child 3 1-2 7, AJ The Boy 4 4-4 12, James Burns 11 1-3 26, Joe Small 2 1-1 6, Ivan Whitford 0 0-0 0, Nate Rock 5 1-2 11. Totals 30 9-14.
Total fouls - Geyser 14, Rocky Boy 15. Fouled out - none. Three-point goals - Geyser 11-26 (Hansen 1-1, R. Neumann 2-10, Matt Neumann 8-14), Rocky Boy 6-10 (Colliflower 2-4, Burns 3-4, Small 1-1). Rebounds - Geyser 31 (Annala 15, Hansen 8), Rocky Boy 30 (Walking Child 10, Rock 9).