By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It doesn't happen very often, but District 9C may just have the top two teams entered in the Northern C Divisional Boys Basketball Tournament, which gets under way this afternoon at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
After running roughshod over the 9C all regular season, the Rocky Boy Stars (19-1) begin the second phase of their quest to bring a state Class C boys basketball championship back to the Hi-Line today at 2:30 p.m. when they square off against perennial Northern C contender and District 10C runner-up Dutton Brady (11-10).
The Stars blew away the field this past weekend at the District 9C tournament in Havre, posting double-digit wins over Box Elder and Hays-Lodge Pole on their way to the first District title in this decade. But as many of Rocky Boy's players will attest, the mission is nowhere near complete and part two of Rocky Boy's high-scoring act starts this afternoon.
"These kids are very focused and they want to take this a lot further," said Rocky Boy first-year head coach Andy Smith. "I think that if we play as well as we're capable of playing there is no reason why we can't have success in this tournament as well."
Indeed, the Stars have been on top of their game for weeks now, but things get a little more difficult the deeper a team goes into the post season. Despite being one of the highest scoring teams in Class C this season and having a plethora of outstanding talent like seniors James Burns, Jesse Colliflower and Charles Walking Child, Smith knows that the task will be even more difficult in Great Falls than it was a week ago in Havre.
"When you get to this point, every game and every opponent is tough," Smith said. "But we have a veteran team and some pretty good depth so there is no doubt in my mind that if we play well we should be one of the teams to beat the rest of the season."
Today's matchup with Dutton-Brady should be a stern test for the Stars. It seems like the Diamondbacks have been a part of the Northern C Divisional every year for the last 20 years.
And even though they haven't had the dominant season in District 10C that they are accustomed to, that certainly doesn't make them any less dangerous.
The D-Backs have a very explosive scorer in Orrie Gondierro as well as a solid post player in Nic Wells. Dutton-Brady also comes into the divisional tournament battle-tested, having had to get by Chester in a Monday night challenge game just to keep their season alive.
While a lot of attention might be focused upon the Stars this week in Great Falls, nobody will be able to afford to overlook District 9C runner up Hays-Lodge Pole (18-4).
Aside from a loss in the District 9C championship game to Rocky Boy last Saturday night, the Thunderbirds looked magnificent in wins over KG in the 9C semifinals, as well as a 30-point blowout over a very good Box elder team in a Monday night challenge game in Havre.
The T-Birds open divisional play tonight against District 10C champion Heart Butte (14-6) tonight at 6:30. The game will pit two of the highest scoring teams in the tournament against each other, but for Thunderbird head coach Ken Morin, success in this tournament will come on the defensive end of the floor.
"I wish that we would have played a little better defense in the this tournament," Morin said. "But we are playing well offensively and we really got it going against Box Elder."
"But we our going to have to play very good defense at the divisional tournament," Morin added. "because everyone that is left at this point in the season can score points."
And so to can the Thunderbirds. One of the things that makes Hays-Lodge Pole such a dangerous team is its depth and streakiness as a shooting team. For example, senior guard Dwight Flansburg was somewhat inconspicuous in Hays-Lodge Pole's first three games of the district tourney, but on Monday night Flansburg torched Box Elder for 23 points and he was a perfect 6 for 6 from the 3-point line. Over the course of this season the Thunderbirds have had eight different players lead them in scoring. But the one constant is 6-3 sophomore Lance Brockie, and that is just the way Morin likes it.
"We are pretty tough to beat when we get it going from the outside and Lance Brockie is playing well on the inside at the same time," Morin said. "This is a very unselfish team and these guys don't care who leads us in scoring as long as we win. And I think our depth will help us a lot out at the divisional tournament."
The T-Birds will need that depth tonight against the Heart Butte Warriors. Heart Butte plays a very similar style to that of Hays-Lodge Pole. And they have several explosive scorers led by the likes of Lyman Tailfeathers, Joe Wagner and Vernon Crawford. The two teams' up-tempo style of play should make for one of the more exciting first round matchups of the day.
Of course the Stars and Thunderbirds aren't the only two teams that will be tough to beat in Great Falls this weekend. The opening game of the day features a pair of tough teams in District 8C champion Geyser against District 7C runner-up Denton.
The Wranglers have been solid all season and surprisingly knocked off top-seeded Centerville in the District 8C championship game last Saturday in Great Falls. The nightcap tonight will feature District 7C champion Winifred (18-3) taking on 8C darkhorse Highwood.
The Mountaineers are the only team that can say they have beaten Rocky Boy this season and they fought their way into the field via the 8C losers bracket and by defeating Centerville Monday night in a challenge game.
Today's opening round of the Northern C divisional tournament will get under way at 1 p.m. Rocky Boy and Dutton-Brady will tip off at 2:30 p.m. The Hays-Lodge Pole/Heart Butte game will get under way at 6 p.m. and the nightcap is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m.