Havre Daily News
Facing elimination, the Rocky Boy Stars rode an inspired defense and Ivan Whitford's clutch shooting to a 51-39 upset victory over the Chinook Sugarbeeters in the District 9C boys basketball tournament on Wednesday night at the Havre High gymnasium.
Chinook entered the tournament with high expectations and hopes of advancing to divisionals after a third-place finish in the league. However, after two puzzling losses to lower-seeded teams, the only place the Beeters are going is home.
“It's definitely very disappointing,” Chinook head coach Warren Lybeck said. “We came in looking to advance to Great Falls for divisionals and now all we are is disappointed because our season is over and we are going home.”
Both teams came out of the blocks playing tough, physical defense, especially Rocky Boy. Coming into the game, the Stars' main defensive focus was containing Chinook's Marty Birky, who had scored 24 points against Hays-Lodge Pole in his previous game. The Stars were determined not to let Birky go off like that again.
Rocky Boy smothered Birky by keeping him out of the lane, where he is usually most effective. With Birky rendered a non-factor, the Beeters turned to Dallas Miller, who scored six first-quarter points, giving Chinook an early 13-8 lead.
As time was running out in the first quarter, Rocky Boy answered in a big way as Whitford hit a long 3-pointer to cut the lead to 13-11 and give his the team the spark it desperately needed.
Feeding off the momentum gained from Whitford's trey, the Stars reeled off three straight baskets to open the second quarter, which amounted to a 9-0 run and a 17-13 lead. Chinook, which went over five minutes without a hoop, answered with a five-point run of its own to retake the lead 18-17, before falling behind 19-18 at halftime.
“The kids really played with a lot of intensity tonight on defense,” Rocky Boy head coach Andy Smith said. “We just needed to find some offense to go with our defense. We knew if we could do that, we could find a way to win.”
After combining for only 13 points in the second quarter, both teams picked up the pace offensively in the third quarter, as they battled back and forth for the lead. It changed hands four times in the period.
Whitford scored five points in the quarter, and, after nailing another 3-pointer, his team led 30-26. However, the lead wouldn't last long as Jordan Lybeck scored five straight points to close out the third quarter and put the Beeters ahead 31-30.
Rocky Boy quickly took control in the fourth quarter as Lakota Oats got a quick basket inside to put the Stars ahead. Oats then earned a trip to the charity stripe, where he nailed two free throws. Sparked by Oats, Rocky Boy had suddenly reclaimed the lead, 36-31.
The Beeters went to the only player they could trust on offense, Miller, and he came through with two big buckets that got Chinook back within striking distance at 38-35.
Even after all their scoring problems, the Beeters were down just three points and one defensive stop away from having a shot to tie the ball game.
However, the Beeters would make one fatal mistake. They lost track of Whitford on the ensuing possession, and by the time they found him it was too little, too late. Whitford nailed a clutch 3-point shot over the outreached arms of Chinook defenders, giving the Stars a 41-35 lead.
“Ivan is a senior leader and he really stepped up and was able to hit a big-time shot for us,” Smith said. “That shot really allowed us to put the game away for good.”
Chinook made one last attempt to overtake the Stars as Miller hit a bucket. Down five points, Chad Beck slashed his way through the Rocky Boy defense for a layup to pull the Beeters within three points, 42-39.
However, Beck's basket would be the last points Chinook scored, as the game turned into a free-throw-shooting contest. The Stars connected on nine out of 11 free throws in the final minutes to ice the game, sending the Beeters packing after just two games.
Whitford spearheaded the Stars with 15 points and some clutch outside shooting. Oats and Guy Johnson contributed with 10 points apiece in the win. Miller poured in a game-high 16 points on the night for the Beeters, and Birky managed just seven points in the loss.
“It was nice to see Ivan step up and have a big game for us,” Smith said. “He is our senior leader and he hit some big shots when we needed him to.”
For Chinook it was a disappointing finish to an otherwise successful season.
“It is always tough to lose, especially for the seniors,” Lybeck said. “We had our chances, but Rocky Boy simply hit the big shots when they needed to and we did not. It was that simple.”
Mean-while, Rocky Boy lives to play another day with the win, which was only the Stars' fifth all season. Rocky Boy will face the loser of today's North Star/Turner semifinal game on Friday at 1 p.m.
“This win is just a testament to how hard these guys worked all year long,” Smith said. “It was just a matter of time before we were going to break through with a win, and tonight we were finally able to get a win.
“Now we just have to find a way to keep it going,” he added. “All I know is that the kids are not quite ready for the season to be over.”
Stars 51, Beeters 39
Chinook 13 5 13 8 - 39
Rocky Boy 11 8 11 21- 51
Chinook - Chad Beck 4, Marty Birky 7, Dallas Miller 16, Jordan Lybeck 7, Luke Whitney 5. Totals 13 2-5 39.
Rocky Boy - Ivan Whitford 15, Guy Johnson 10, Bryant Eagleman 10, Kyle Standing Rock 4, Justin Big Knife 6. Totals 14 16-20 51.
3-pointers - Chinook 2 (Birky, Lybeck) Rocky Boy 2 (Whitford 2). Total Fouls - Chinook 17, Rocky Boy 17. Fouled Out - Marty Birky, Dallas Miller.