Havre Daily News
With one victory, the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds made the disappointment of an under-achieving season disappear.
And now, with their seemingly dead season off life support, it's time to see how far these T-Birds can fly.
The sixth-seeded T-Birds used a dangerous combination of youth and experience to roll over the third-seeded Chinook Sugarbeeters, 64-50, Tuesday night at the HHS gymnasium in the District 9C boys basketball tournament.
It took each team a few minutes, a few missed shots and some errant passes before they were able to find their groove in a back-and-forth first quarter. The lead changed hands four times in the opening period before the T-Birds took an 11-10 advantage at the end of the opening eight minutes.
The second quarter belonged entirely to Chinook star Marty Birky, who put up 14 points in the period as he sliced through the T-Bird defense with an array of impressive moves. However, the T-Birds answered with some big shots of their own as Lance Brockie and Cody McCabe countered Birky's outstanding individual effort.
In fact, of the 34 points scored in the second quarter, 27 of them came from either Birky, Brockie or McCabe.
Despite Birky's best efforts, his team trailed 29-26 at halftime.
“We knew coming into the game that Birky was their go-to guy,” Hays-Lodge Pole head coach Charlie Ereaux said. “We had focused on trying to stop him, and in the first half we just couldn't do it.”
Entering the third quarter with a slim lead, the T-Birds were determined to take control of the game. The T-Birds quickly pushed the lead out to 38-29 after a McCabe 3-point shot that seemed to sway the momentum in the T-Birds' favor.
Freshman A.J. Long Soldier and HLP took that momentum and ran with it. The 6-4 Long Soldier used his combination of size and quickness to slip past the Beeter defense for four straight easy baskets and spark the T-Birds to a 16-2 run that put them ahead 47-29, essentially putting the game on ice.
HLP had not been able to get out and run the fast break in the first half because of solid offensive execution by the Beeters. But when the Beeters could no longer find the basket, the T-Birds got some easy baskets in transition and took over the game.
Birky, who was so prominent in the first half, all but disappeared in the second half beneath a wave of swarming HLP defenders. The T-Birds contained Birky with an aggressive style of defense that forced other Chinook players to step up and make shots. The Beeters scored just six points in a miserable third quarter.
“The kids stepped up in the second half and took some pride in their defense,” Ereaux said. “We were then able to get some opportunities in transition and we got some match-ups that we could exploit.”
Down by 15 points with just one quarter to go, the Beeters had to start making up ground, and fast. However, early on the T-Birds extended their lead even further and when McCabe nailed a 3-pointer, they took their biggest lead of the night at 52-34.
The Beeters didn't give in and about midway through the fourth quarter , they began to make one final desperate charge.
Chinook was able to put together three straight baskets, and when Jordan Lybeck was fouled on a layup, the lead was cut to 10 points at 54-44. The momentum was shifting.
Lybeck missed the ensuing free throw, but after a T-Bird turnover, the Beeters got the ball back with a chance to cut the deficit to single digits. The Beeters failed to cash in and from that point it was all over.
The T-Birds ate up the clock and knocked down some important free throws to seal up a 64-50 win.
“We just couldn't establish any rhythm offensively,” Chinook head coach Warren Lybeck said. “Early on, we were able to stop them from running, but it's hard to do when you can't score, and they got some easy baskets in transition.
“Also, they took Marty out of the game in the second half, which normally wouldn't be a problem, but tonight we just couldn't knock down any shots,” Lybeck added.
Brockie and McCabe led the way for the T-Birds with 17 points and 16 points, respectively, in the win. Long Soldier added nine points off the bench.
Birky led the way for the Beeters with a game-high 24 points, but in the end he just didn't have enough help. He was the only Chinook player to score in double figures.
The Beeters will now face Rocky Boy in a loser-out game tonight at 7 with the hope of keeping their season alive.
“We just can't worry about this loss too much,” Lybeck said. “We have to stay motivated and we have got to get refocused. If you are going to lose a game in this tournament it's best to lose the first one. So we still have a chance, but we can't spend too much time feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Hays-Lodge Pole will advance to the semifinals and meet Box Elder at 7 p.m. on Thursday with a berth in the District 9C championship game on the line.
“We were finally able to put together four good quarters of basketball,” Ereaux said. “Tonight was the first time all year we have been able to play consistently throughout the entire game. This is a big win for our confidence and our morale. After all the losses, the kids almost expected to lose, and now they know they can win again.”
Thunderbirds 63, Beeters 50
Chinook 10 16 6 16 - 50
HLP 11 18 18 17 - 64
Chinook - Chad Beck 9, Marty Birky 24, Tad Darrah 3, Dallas Miller 2, Jordan Lybeck 6, Adam Hayes 4. Totals 18 10-20 50.
HLP - Jordan Werk 5, Cole McCabe 6, Lenny Gray 1, Beau Doney 4, Cody McCabe 16, Tyrell Haakanson 2, Vincent Gone 4, A.J. Long Soldier 9, Lance Brockie 17. Totals 20 10-27 64.
3-pointers - Chinook 1 (Birky) HLP 4 (Brockie 2, Cody McCabe 2). Total fouls - Chinook 22, HLP 20. Fouled out - Dallas Miller.