Havre Daily News sports editor
The Rocky Boy Morning Stars have made a living in challenge games over the past two seasons. In both 2004 and 2005, Rocky Boy had to win challenge games in order to get to the divisional tournament.
But on Monday night at the Havre High gymnasium, for a moment it looked as if the Morning Stars' third straight District 9C girls challenge game wasn't going to go their way.
From the start of the third quarter until the two-minute mark of the fourth, the Chinook Sugarbeeters looked like the team that was going to advance to the Northern C divisional tournament in its first year in Class C basketball.
Trailing by a score of 23-21 at the half, Chinook rallied behind senior guard Crystal Roseberry and stole the lead away from Rocky Boy via a 10-2 run in the third quarter.
Things looked even better for Chinook in the fourth quarter as the Beeters ripped off a 7-0 run that upped their lead to nine points, 42-33, with just over four minutes to go in the game.
That is when Rocky Boy head coach Deb LaMere made a very bold move. LaMere pulled all five of her starters out of the game and, surprisingly, the Rocky Boy reserves played Chinook even over the next two minutes.
When four of the five starters re-entered the game, everything changed. Rocky Boy scored 10 quick points, capped off by freshman Apryl Webster's 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-42 with 1:12 left on the clock. From there, the Morning Stars forced Chinook into seven turnovers in the final minute and outscored the Beeters 10-2 en route to a 51-44 win.
After the dramatic comeback was complete, an emotional LaMere had to fight back tears in order to explain her strategy at the end of the game.
“I am blessed with great talent. We have great players on this team,” LaMere said. “But they are also young players who need guidance. Sitting them down may have been a risky move but they all understood why I did it, and I am so proud of them for responding to it. They went back on the floor and played their hearts out.”
Shaneen Raining Bird, who scored eight of Rocky Boy's final 10 points, as well as eight straight points in the second quarter, was equally emotional in assessing the drama that unfolded in the fourth quarter.
“We got sat down because we weren't playing like we were capable of and we weren't playing with heart,” Raining Bird said. “So, when we got our chance to get back in the game, we all just got together and decided that we had to try and find a way to come back and win this game. And we did that, and it feels amazing right now.”
Raining Bird finished the game with a team-high 17 points, all coming in the post against bigger, stronger Chinook defenders. Even though she paced the Morning Stars in the scoring column, it was Webster's dramatic shots in the fourth quarter that sealed the deal in Raining Bird's mind, and her coach's mind too.
“Apryl was awesome,” Raining Bird said. “She stepped up and hit two threes when we needed them most. She was huge for us tonight.”
Said LaMere: “Apryl Webster is just a freshman. And she stepped up and made two huge 3-pointers under tremendous pressure. What a moment for her.”
Chinook got a huge night from Roseberry. In what turned out to be her final basketball game in a Chinook uniform, she scored a game-high 18 points.
Roseberry was instrumental in the Beeters' fast start to the game, in which they led 11-2 early on.
She also sparked Chinook's third-quarter comeback when she scored nine of the Beeters' 14 third-quarter points. Dawn Kellam was the only other Beeter in double figures with 10 points. The senior also grabbed 12 rebounds.
The story for the Beeters was one of lost momentum and a game-high 19 turnovers, including the costly ones when they were just trying to hold on to the lead at the end of the game.
“Chinook is a very good basketball team,” LaMere said. “They played their hearts out tonight and we feel very fortunate to have come back and beat them.”
In addition to Raining Bird's night, Rocky Boy also got 11 points from Frances Eagleman. Chinook's defense negated the conference's leading scorer, Tori Belcourt, who was held to eight points on the night.
Rocky Boy will have just two days to rest before the team travels to Great Falls for its third straight appearance in the Northern C divisional tournament. But before LaMere was willing to look ahead, she had to reflect on what had just transpired.
“I am just so proud of these kids right now,” LaMere said. “They play with so much heart and what they accomplished tonight was amazing.
“They were really down after losing to Big Sandy by one point,” she added. “But tonight they did something that they can all be very proud of. I know I am proud of all of them.”
The Morning Stars will meet Highwood on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in the opening round of the Northern C divisional tournament at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
District 9C champion Big Sandy will square off against Geyser at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Morning Stars 51, Beeters 44
Chinook 15 6 14 7 - 44
Rocky Boy 18 5 8 20 - 51
Chinook - Dawn Kellam 10, Cheyanne Hamilton 1, Crystal Roseberry 18, Morgan Obie 3, Kassie Dugan 4, Georgia Barber 4. Totals: 22 3-8 44.
Rocky Boy - Shaneen Raining Bird 17, Loni Belcourt 4, Tori Belcourt 8, Frances Eagleman 11, Deena Sunchild 1, Apryl Webster 6, Erinn Broncho 4. Totals: 20 8-13 51.
3-pointers - Chinook 1 (Obie 1), Rocky Boy 2 (Webster 2); Total fouls - Chinook 13, Rocky Boy 14; Fouled out - None.