Havre Daily News
The clock finally struck midnight on the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds Cinderella story.
After a 7-11 regular season, the T-Birds boys basketball team came out of nowhere, and led by freshman standout A.J. Long Soldier they won both the District 9C championship and the Northern C Divisional championship.
However, the T-Birds run towards a Class C state title was derailed by the Alberton Panthers, 67-52 on Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the 2006 Class C state tournament at the Billings Metra.
The game went back and forth early on with five lead changes in the first quarter. But, HLP still managed to take a 13-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter the game was tied at 18-18 when the Panthers went on the run that would separate them from the T-Birds for good.
Alberton's Geof Denhe nailed a 3-pointer to break the deadlock, and then, after a Brandon Kowhles basket, Denhe drilled another trey giving the Panthers a 26-18 lead, and, all of a sudden the Panthers had broken open what had been a nip and tuck game up to that point. By halftime HLP had shaved just one point off the lead, as the T-Birds trailed 31-24.
In the third quarter it looked as though Long Soldier was about to work his usual second-half magic once again as he scored eight straight points to cut the Panthers lead to 41-37.
But, Denhe and the Panthers answered back emphatically. Denhe hit another trey and then Matt Vicek got an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Panthers ahead 47-38.
Down 49-39 at the start of the fourth quarter, the T-Birds needed to make a run, but after three straight baskets by Denhe, Nagy and Graf the Panthers extended their lead to a commanding 14 points at 55-41.
Knowing that they had to make up ground fast, the T-Birds began to force some outside shots, but it was just not the T-Birds' day. They did cut the lead to 57-48 after a Lenny Gray 3-pointer, but that would be as close as they were able to get because down the stretch nothing seemed to fall for HLP. And they got no help from the Panthers, who connected on a number of free throws to seal the win.
Long Soldier led the way for the T-Birds with 15 points on a night where the magic simply wasn't there. Lance Brockie added 13 points and nine rebounds for the T-Birds in the loss.
Denhe led the Panthers with a game-high 24 points, including four 3-pointers on the game. Nagy contributed with 12 points, six assists and four steals, while Graf added 10 points and eight rebounds in the win.
In other Class C state tournament action, the Heart Butte Warriors rallied from a large deficit to knock off the Highwood Moutaineers 60-56 in the tournament's play-in-game.
The Warriors then had to turn around and play No.2 ranked Gardiner in the night session and were promptly thrashed by the Bruins 72-52. The defending state champion Bruins were led by Bodie Tobin's 24 points and 14 rebounds in the win.
Park City handed No. 1 Whitewater its first loss of the season as Park City pulled off the 49-48 upset victory. Whitewater trailed 47-39 late in the game before going on a big run to go ahead 48-47 after a Kalvin Reichelt trey. But Joe Darkenwald hit two free throws with just over a minute remaining to give Park City the lead for good.
In other quarterfinal action Melstone cruised to an easy 61-44 victory over Fairview.
Hays-Lodge Pole will now meet the winner of the Highwood-Fairview tonight t at 5 in loser-out action.
Panthers 67, Thunderbirds 52
HLP 13 11 15 13 - 52
Alberton 11 20 18 18 - 67
HLP - Cole McCabe 9, Beau Doney 2, Vince Gone 2, Lance Brockie 13, Cody McCabe 8, A.J. Long Soldier 15, Lenny Grey 3. Totals 20-60 9-15 52.
Alberton - Kort Graf 10, Cody Nagy 12, Brandon Kohlwes 11, Geof Dehne 24, Matt Vicek 10. Totals 25-54 13-20 67.
3-pointers - HLP 3 (Grey, Brockie, McCabe), Alberton 4 (Dehne 4). Fouled out-Brockie. Total fouls - HLP 17, Alberton 13.