Havre Daily News
GREAT FALLS - A.J. Long Soldier did it again. He scored 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds knocked off the Heart Butte Warriors Saturday night in Great Falls for the Northern C divisional championship.
After a back-and-forth game that featured a number of lead changes and saw the T-Birds twice come from behind, the game was tied going into the fourth quarter at 44-44.
That's when Long Soldier put the T-Birds on his back and carried them to victory, continuing HLP's improbable postseason run.
Long Soldier scored a couple of baskets early in the fourth quarter, and about midway through the final period the T-Birds held a slim one-point advantage. Lance Brockie hit a 3-pointer and a free throw to extend the lead to 55-50.
Sensing a chance to put the Warriors away, Long Soldier went for the throat. He scored the T-Birds' next nine points to put HLP ahead 64-52, and the game was all but over.
Asked how Long Soldier always seems to come up with big shots at critical moments, HLP head coach Charlie Ereaux summed it up simply: “That's just the way that A.J. plays. He does great things out there. He makes the guys around him better, and the team gets a real confidence boost when he is out there. Every coach wants a guy like him on their team.”
Although Long Soldier was key in the victory, he wasn't the sole reason for his team's success. Brockie scored 13 points and drilled a number of clutch shots.
“Lance is definitely not afraid to shoot the ball,” Ereaux said. “He missed some shots in the first half, but I told him before he just has to keep shooting, and I'm really glad that he did.”
Cole McCabe and Cody McCabe also stepped up big for the T-Birds as they scored 13 points and 11 points, respectively.
“It was a good team effort,” Long Soldier said. “We knew that we could come back, and it feels pretty good that we were able to win.”
The Warriors jumped out to an early 12-6 lead behind the dominant play of 6-10 Jesse Brave Rock. The T-Birds had no answer for Brave Rock, who got just about anything he wanted in the first half.
By halftime, Brave Rock had scored 16 points and the Warriors had a 32-29 lead.
“Brave Rock is just an excellent player,” Ereaux said. “We didn't really have an answer for him in the first half. All we could do was double-team him and try to keep the ball out of his hands.”
With Long Soldier on the bench to start the second half, the Warriors pushed their lead to 37-30. But Long Soldier returned to the game, giving the T-Birds the spark they needed. They quickly went on a 9-0 run to regain the lead and, in doing so, they held Brave Rock in check, allowing him only four more points in the game.
Chris Gobert added 16 points for the Warriors in the loss.
On Friday night the T-Birds took on Dutton-Brady for the right to play in the championship game.
The T-Birds got off to a bit of a slow start as they fell behind 10-8 after the first quarter. At halftime the game was tied at 18-18.
In the third quarter HLP was finally able to grab the lead, but not by much. The T-Birds held a slim 30-28 lead heading into the final quarter.
But, as they have done throughout the postseason, HLP went on one of its patented runs. The T-Birds outscored Dutton-Brady 16-7 in the fourth quarter to seal up the 46-35 win, clinching berths in both the divisional championship game and the Class C State Tournament.
Long Soldier led the way for the T-Birds with a game-high 14 points. Lenny Gray added 12 points off the bench, and Cody McCabe pitched in with eight points in the win.
Donny Chippewa was the only player from Dutton-Brady to reach double figures as he scored 13 points in the defeat.
Now that the T-Birds have made the state tournament, they hope they can continue their run through the postseason.
“It's been kind of like a Cinderella story,” Ereaux said. “We are playing with a lot of confidence right now. The kids are riding a real emotional high. We are just going to see how far we can ride this momentum and we will see what happens out on the court.”
The Class C State Tournament begins Thursday at the Billings Metra. HLP will face either Drummond or Alberton in the first round.
Hays-Lodge Pole 46, Dutton-Brady 35 (sf)
HLP 8 10 12 16 - 46
Dutton-Brady 10 8 10 7 - 35
HLP - Lance Brockie 1-10 2-2 4, Cody McCabe 4-11 0-2 8, Beau Doney 1-2 0-0 2, Vincent Gone 1-3 2-2 4, A.J. Long Soldier 6-13 2-5 14, Lenny Gray 2-7 8-8 12, Josh Black Elk 1-1 0-2 2. Totals: 16-49 14-21 46.
Dutton-Brady - Jeff Blanchet 2-5 0-0 5, Cody Kitchin 1-1 0-0 3, Donny Chippewa 6-12 1-1 13, Nic Wells 3-16 3-4 9, Josh Kitchin 1-5 0-0 3, Andrew Bishop 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 14-43 4-5 35.
Total fouls - HLP 10, Dutton-Brady 17. Fouled out - Chippewa. 3-pointers - HLP 0-6, Dutton-Brady 4-5 (Chippewa 1-1, J. Kitchin 1-4, Blanchet 1-3, C. Kitchin 1-1).
Hays-Lodge Pole 71, Heart Butte 61 (1st)
HLP 15 14 15 27 - 71
Heart Butte 16 16 12 17 - 61
HLP - Lance Brockie 4-12 2-4 13, Cody McCabe 3-7 3-5 11, Vincent Gone 2-4 2-3 6, Cole McCabe 5-8 3-7 13, A.J. LongSoldier 9-13 7-8 25, Lenny Gray 1-2 1-2 3. Totals: 24-49 18-28 71.
Heart Butte - Chris Gobert 7-14 0-0 16, Sheldon Armstrong 3-9 0-0 7, Jesse Brave Rock 9-13 2-3 20, Pat Whitcomb 1-5 0-0 3, Joe Wagner 2-6 0-0 4, Nathan Many Hides 2-3 1-2 5, Brian Wombold 2-3 2-2 6. Totals: 26-53 5-7 61.
Total fouls - HLP 10, Heart Butte 10. Fouled out - none. 3-pointers - HLP 5 (Cody McCabe 2, Brockie 3), Heart Butte 4 (Armstrong, Whitcomb, Gobert 2).