Havre Daily News
After another exciting District 9C boys basketball season, it's tournament time. Seven teams will be fighting it out for two berths in the divisional tournament, and in a league that can often be unpredictable, every team gets to start with a clean slate this week.
The District 9C tournament this year can best be described as wide open. The North Star Knights earned the regular- season championship with an 11-1 record. The Knights' only loss came at Box Elder in the last weekend of the regular season.
The Knights (11-1 conference, 14-4 overall), who have to be considered the favorite to win the tournament, were rewarded for their spectacular regular season with a first-round bye into the semifinals, further helping their cause. Adding to the North Stars' cause will be star player Cody Donoven, who will try to lead his team to a district title. Donoven is the second-leading scorer in the league this season.
“We are not as big or as quick as some of the other teams,” North Star head coach Charlie Robinson said. “But we play good together and we have found a way to win the close games.”
The Box Elder Bears, considered the best bet to knock off North Star, will open the tournament today when they take on defending tournament champion Rocky Boy at 1 p.m.
Box Elder (8-4 conference, 14-4 overall) finished second in the district this season. The Bears are led by the dynamic duo of Aaron Henry and Steve Arca. Henry is the league's leading scorer, and he averages about 23 points per game.
“We like our chances in this tournament,” Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon said. “We lost some games early on that we should not have lost. But we turned it around in the second half of the season, and I think that if we can get out and run we will be a formidable opponent.”
Rocky Boy (2-10 conference, 4-14 overall), which finished last in the league and is the seventh seed, comes into the tournament with just two conference wins. The Stars are a young team that is still in the rebuilding stage after a remarkable 2005 season that took them to within one win of earning a trophy at the Class C state tournament.
However, this young team has played better as the season has gone on, and if the Stars are overlooked, they may just surprise some people.
“I think our biggest thing is just finding some consistency,” Rocky Boy head coach Andy Smith said. “We have improved a lot over the year. Now we just have to find a way to execute down the stretch and find a way to avoid mistakes.”
In the second first-round matchup, the Chinook Sugarbeeters will take on Hays-Lodge Pole tonight at 7 in the most intriguing opening-round game.
The Beeters entered the season without knowing how they would fare in a new league. This season was Chinook's inaugural year in Class C. The Beeters ended up earning the third seed in the tournament with a 7-5 conference record. Now, they look to not only validate that they belong, but hope to extend their season with a trip to the divisional tournament.
“We are healthy and feeling good coming in,” Chinook head coach Warren Lybeck said. “Every team is thinking about winning this tournament and we are playing to win.”
The Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds (4-8 conference, 7-11 overall) started the year as the preseason favorite to win the league championship, but they ended the year in sixth place. The T-Birds, however, began to play better at the end of the season, and even though they are young, they have two talented freshmen in Cole McCabe and A.J. Long Soldier. Hays-Lodge Pole also has the league's best big man in 6-4 junior Lance Brockie.
Although this team may be young, the T-Birds certainly have the talent, and if they can come of age they may be tough to beat.
“Hays-Lodge Pole is finally starting to get healthy and get some of their players back,” Robinson said. “They are a talented team and they are going to be very competitive.”
In the final first-round game, Big Sandy will face Turner on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in a matchup of two up-and-coming teams.
The game is a matchup of two talented teams that entered the season under the radar.
The Pioneers (6-6 conference, 7-11 overall) can score with the best of them and they will no doubt try to turn their game against the Tornadoes into a track meet.
“We can score points,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “It is absolutely wide open this year and there is no real dominant team. We are going to be a dangerous team, and if teams aren't ready to play we will beat them.”
Turner (4-8 conference, 7-11 overall) comes into the tournament as the hottest team, having knocked off both Box Elder and Chinook last weekend. The Tornadoes won just one game a year ago, but after Kevin Keller took over the program, the team underwent an extreme makeover, and they are out to prove that they are no longer the district doormats.
“I think our talent caught up to everyone else,” Keller said. “We just have to stay hungry and play four good quarters of basketball. If we do that, we can win.”
The three teams that survive the opening round of play will join North Star in the semifinals, which are scheduled for 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The consolation game will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. and the championship game will be Saturday night at 7 p.m. The 2006 District 9C tournament will take place at the Havre High School gymnasium.