Havre Daily News
At the start of the District 9C boys basketball tournament, few people believed in the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds.
But after ambushing the Box Elder Bears on their way to the 9C championship game, the T-Birds are starting to make believers out of everyone.
In a game that was anticipated to be very tight, it was anything but. The T-Birds demoralized Box Elder on their way to an impressive 89-67 victory Thursday night in the District 9C semifinals at the Havre High gymnasium.
HLP, which struggled down the stretch and won just one game over the final month of the season, continued its metamorphosis on Thursday night as it upset a higher-seeded team for the second time in three days.
“We had a lot of doubters coming into the tournament,” Hays-Lodge Pole head coach Charlie Ereaux said. “It wasn't like we had won a lot of games or anything like that. Nobody probably would have thought that a sixth seed would be in the championship, so we have kind of shocked everyone.”
The T-Birds got off to a picture-perfect start against the Bears, jumping out to a 7-2 lead in front of a packed house at the HHS gymnasium.
Box Elder struggled throughout the first quarter offensively. The Bears had opportunities to score and good looks at the basket, but they failed to capitalize.
After Lane LaMere cut the lead to 7-4, the T-Birds reeled off seven straight points, putting them ahead 14-4. By the end of the first quarter, they led 16-7.
In the second quarter the T-Birds were like a ticking time bomb about to go off. Not long into the period they exploded.
The T-Birds reeled of a 14-1 run in a matter of minutes and Box Elder had no answer for them. They got easy baskets off breakaways, and every shot seemed to find the bottom of the net.
In the blink of an eye, the T-Birds had turned the game into a rout and by halftime they led 44-20.
“We did a great job on them defensively,” Ereaux said. “Aaron Henry is one of the best guards in the league and we were able to hold him in check. We were also able to control the boards offensively and defensively and that allowed us to get out and run the break.”
In fact, the T-Birds did such a good job defending Henry in the first half that the league's leading scorer managed a measly five first-half points.
With a 24-point halftime deficit, the Bears' only option was to try and chip away at the lead. They got off on the right foot in the third quarter as they slowly began to put a few baskets together, cutting into the T-Birds' advantage. Henry drilled a trey that capped off a 10-1 run to open the second half, pulling the Bears within striking distance at 45-32.
However, Box Elder was never able to get the deficit down to single digits. Every time the Bears made a run and showed signs of life, the T-Birds answered with a run of their own.
By the end of the third quarter, the Bears trailed 58-42.
“We just couldn't get anything going offensively,” Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon said. “We got some good looks at the basket but we just were unable to knock them down.”
In the fourth quarter, the Bears were desperately trying to make a late run to get themselves back into the game, but it never happened. The two teams traded baskets for much of the fourth quarter, and by the time the game was all over the T-Birds had handed the Bears their most embarrassing loss of the season, and at the worst possible time.
Cody McCabe led the way for the T-Birds with a game-high 25 points, including 24 in the final three quarters. Freshman sensation A.J. Long Soldier also had a big night as he torched the Bears for 18 points, and Vincent Gone contributed with 14 points and some very solid defense on Henry.
“Cody McCabe was all over the floor tonight,” Ereaux said. “He was relentless.
“Lance Brockie also had a big night,” he added. “He didn't score a lot of points but he controlled the boards, and A.J. stepped up and played very tough for us tonight.”
Henry scored 21 points on the night to lead the Bears, but even with 21, he wasn't a factor in the game at any point.
“I knew that we could do it,” McCabe said. “A lot of people doubted us. But I knew that if we could just play more consistent, we could win. Now, we just have to keep playing and see what we can do.”
Said Ereaux: “There are still going to be people that doubt us. But after two big wins I think people now know that we are a dangerous team.”
Box Elder will slip into the loser-out bracket with its hopes of reaching the divisional tournament now in jeopardy. The Bears will face Big Sandy tonight at 7 in loser-out action.
Hays-Lodge Pole will take on North Star Saturday night at 7 for the district 9C championship.
T-Birds 89, Bears 67
Box Elder 7 13 22 25 - 67
HLP 16 28 15 31 - 89
Box Elder - Steve Arca 9, Aaron Henry 21, Lane Lamere 2, Mike Sangrey Jr. 5, Colton Montes 6, Jayson Hawk 9, Austin Whitford 8, Joel Parker 2. Totals 18 20-32 67
HLP - Jordan Werk 4, Cole McCabe 12, Lenny Gray 3, Cody McCabe 25, Vincent Gone 14, A.J. Long Soldier 18, Lance Brockie 6. Totals 28 23-40 89.
3-pointers - Box Elder 3 ( Henry 2, Arca) HLP 2 (Gone, Long Soldier) Total Fouls - Box Elder 32, HLP 23. Fouled out - Bacon, Lamere, McCabe..