By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Rocky Boy Stars may have proven that they were the best team in District 9C boys basketball this season, but Monday night at the Havre High gymnasium, the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds looked like they weren't far behind.
The T-Birds used several big scoring runs and breakout performances from Dwight Flansburg and Lance Brockie to blow out the Box Elder Bears, 87-51, in a District 9C challenge game.
The win over Box Elder entitles the T-Birds to join Rocky Boy at the Northern C divisional tournament in Great Falls later this week. Hays-Lodge Pole will play District 10C champion Heart Butte in the opening round of the tournament at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday night.
"The kids were very focused and determined tonight," said an ecstatic Hays-Lodge Pole head coach Ken Morin. "There was very little talk in the locker room before the game, which is rare for these kids. Rocky Boy handed it to us pretty good on Saturday night, so these kids were really focused on coming back and playing good basketball tonight."
While the final scoreboard showed a lopsided T-Bird win, the game didn't start out that way. Steve Arca scored Box Elder's first eight points as the Bears raced out to an early lead.
But in a sign of things to come, the T-Birds stormed right back via a 14-1 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Flansburg and Brockie. Brockie also asserted himself in the paint, scoring eight easy points off of offensive rebounds as the T-Birds grabbed a 19-12 lead.
Although there was still three quarters to play, Box Elder's last stand really came early in the second quarter. The Bears ripped off 12 unanswered points to wrestle the lead away from the T-Birds at 22-21.
However, Hays-Lodge Pole answered with an onslaught that wouldn't end until the final buzzer. The T-Birds closed the half on a 15-3 run behind the strong play of Brockie. The run opened up a double-digit lead at 36-25 and the Bears could never recover.
"We played well early in the game," said Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon. "But Hays-Lodge Pole got really hot and they didn't let up. I think we played pretty good defense tonight, but everything was going in for them. It was just one of those nights."
Down by 11 points, the Bears really saw the T-Birds offense heat up at the start of the third quarter. Flansburg and Delaine Ariwite hit three straight 3-pointers as the T-Birds ran off another 19-1 run in the third period that put the Bears away for good.
By midway through the fourth quarter, Hays-Lodge Pole's lead had grown to as big as 38 points at one point.
The final T-Birds statistics were staggering. The T-Birds shot better than 65 percent from the field and better than 50 percent from 3-point range. Flansburg scored a game-high 23 points and he was a perfect six for six from behind the arc. Brockie was no less dominant. He added 22 points of his own and yanked down 15 rebounds. He also managed four blocked shots on the night.
"It was definitely one of those nights when we were really good offensively," Morin said. "We shot the ball really well from the outside and Lance Brockie was really big in the post. When we get it going like that, we're pretty tough to beat."
The Bears got a stellar effort from Arca, who scored 17 points, while Aaron Henry added 14 points. While disappointed about his season being over, Bacon was able to reflect a little bit.
"We told these guys after the game that they had nothing to hang their heads about," Bacon said. "They have come a long way from where they started, and I think they should really look forward to next year."
Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds (18-4) are moving on to Great Falls for the Northern C divisional tournament and Morin said that is a huge accomplishment in itself.
"I think the kids should take a lot of pride in what they have accomplished so far," Morin said. "They have worked really hard this season and they definitely earned this. Our league is very tough and there are a lot of great teams and great coaches. To get to the divisional tournament is a big goal accomplished for us."
Hays-Lodge Pole 87, Box Elder 51
Box Elder 12 13 12 14 - 51
Hays-Lodge Pole 19 17 26 23 - 87
Box Elder - Tyler Henry 7, Dustin Bacon 5, Aaron Henry 14, Chad Taylor 5, Steve Arca 17, Jayson Hawk 2.
Hays-Lodge Pole - Garrett Morin 6, Kelly Healy 2, Robyn Doney 4, Delaine Ariwite 12, Dwight Flansburg 23, Clayton Grant 2, Lance Brockie 22, Mike Werk 2, Joe Blackelk 6, Cody McCabe 8.
3-point goals - Ariwite 2, Flansburg 6, Brockie 1, T. Henry 1, A. Henry 1, Taylor 1. Total fouls - Box Elder 13, Hays-Lodge Pole 20. Fouled out - none.