Havre Daily News
The only thing that stood in the way of the Big Sandy Pioneers winning the District 9C girls basketball tournament was a tough, hard-nosed Rocky Boy team that was not ready to concede anything.
If the regular-season champion Pioneers wanted the tournament title, they were going to have to earn it.
A game that many expected to be an easy win for the Pioneers turned out to be a classic battle that went down to the wire.
The contest was so tight that no team ever led by more than four points and the lead changed 19 times throughout. It was championship basketball at its best.
In the end, it was the Pioneers who defeated the Morning Stars in the title game for the second consecutive year, 50-49.
“It was a very close game. We couldn't find the basket early on, but we kept working at it and we finally made something happen,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “It's great that we were able to win another district championship. To win them as consistently as we have is great for the kids.”
While Big Sandy is on its way to the Northern C divisional tournament next weekend in Great Falls, Rocky Boy is going to have to turn around and play Chinook tonight at 7:30 for the right to advance.
“The girls are definitely disappointed with the loss,” Rocky Boy coach Deborah LaMere said. “But, they are mentally tough and they will be ready to play against Chinook. It should be a very exciting game.”
It didn't take long to figure out Saturday's game was going to be a battle. After the first quarter, the game was tied at 14-14.
At halftime the teams were still neck and neck, as the Morning Stars held a 24-22 lead.
The third quarter was similar to the first two, as the teams went back and forth, answering basket for basket. By the end of the third quarter, Rocky Boy held a 39-37 lead.
That set the stage for a pulse-pounding finish.
Big Sandy retook the lead 41-39 after consecutive baskets by Naomi Williams and Sarah Yirsa. Rocky Boy's Loni Belcourt answered with a clutch 3-pointer to put the Morning Stars back up by one point.
Then Kacy Herron, a standout guard for the Pioneers, scored to give Big Sandy the lead once again.
With her team down 45-44, Belcourt was fouled after a steal and had a chance to reclaim the lead for Rocky Boy. She nailed both free throws and with just two minutes to go, the Morning Stars held a slim 46-45 lead.
Big Sandy responded like all great teams do.
First, it was Williams getting inside and scoring. Then, Herron sliced through the Rocky Boy defense for a basket, putting the Pioneers up 49-46 with a little over a minute to play.
Needing someone to step up, the Morning Stars turned to an unlikely hero. Apryl Webster, who made just one basket in the first three quarters, was left open for a 3-point shot and she drilled it, tying the game at 49-49 and sending the Rocky Boy crowd into a frenzy.
The ecstasy would be short-lived, as Shalayna Pearson of Big Sandy was fouled on the ensuing possession while driving to the basket. Pearson hit one of two free throws to put her team up 50-49.
With 22 seconds to go, the Morning Stars made a critical mistake as Erinn Broncho was called for traveling. It looked as though Rocky Boy's fate was sealed.
But as Big Sandy tried to run out the clock, Belcourt intercepted a Pioneer pass and the Morning Stars had new life. They called timeout with 3.6 seconds left in hopes of setting up a game-winning shot.
However, on the inbounds play Rocky Boy seemed confused. The ball was passed to Shaneen Raining Bird and she got a good look at the basket, but her desperation shot hit the front iron, giving the Pioneers the district title in dramatic fashion.
“We were trying to get the ball to Loni of off a screen,” LaMere said. “We just didn't execute it the way we wanted to.”
The Pioneers were led by 17 clutch points from Herron. Williams also scored 17 points, including six in the fourth quarter and led Big Sandy with nine rebounds.
“It feels great to win,” Herron said. “We just feel lucky because there are so many good teams in our conference. It was a tight game all the way through, but we calmed down and were able to execute down the stretch.”
After adding another 9C district title to his already long list of achievements, Lackner and his team will now focus on taking the next step, which is to qualify for the state tournament.
“It's always good to win at districts. But now it's time to move on and try to get to state,” Lackner said. “I don't care how we finish as long as it's in the top three, because you can't place at state if you don't make it to the tournament.”
Pioneers 50, Morning Stars 49
Big Sandy 14 10 15 13 - 50
Rocky Boy 14 8 17 10 - 49
Big Sandy - Naomi Williams 17, Sarah Yirsa 8, Kacy Herron 17, Shalayna Pearson 8. Totals - 21 6-14 50.
Rocky Boy - Randee Demontiney 2, Shaneen Raining Bird 8, Loni Belcourt 21, Tori Belcourt 9, Frances Eagleman 2, Apryl Webster 5, Erinn Broncho 4. Totals - 18 9-12 49.
Total fouls - Big Sandy 14, Rocky Boy 14. Fouled out - none. 3-pointers - Herron 2, Loni Belcourt 3, Tori Belcourt, A. Webster.