Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Crunch time has arrived for the seven teams in the District 9C, as the boys basketball tournament gets under way this week in Havre with two spots in the Northern C Divisional on the line. Tournament favorites and co-regular season champions Big Sandy and Hays-Lodge Pole lead the field. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 10-2 records and split the season series with each team winning on their own home floor. Big Sandy was awarded the top seed and the first round bye in the tournament as a result of winning a coin toss. “It’s nice to be the co-regular season champion,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “But I don’t really know how much a bye is going to help you because you are still going to have to play a tough team in the semifinals. So I don’t know how big of a difference it’s going to make.” While Big Sandy kicks back, second- seeded HLP will open the tournament against the seventh-seeded Box Elder Bears, who are winless on the season. HLP is the defending tournament champion after last season’s Cinderella run to the title, which included victories over the top three seeds in consecutive nights to claim an improbable district championship. With key players such as All-State forward Lance Brockie and sensational sophomore A.J. Long Soldier returning the Thunderbirds (15-2 overall, 10-2 conference) appear to have what it takes to win the 9C tournament for the second straight season. “I think that a lot of people looked at us to be the favorite in the league this year,” HLP head coach Charlie Ereaux said. “But I think that Big Sandy is kind of the favorite now. We still had a pretty good year, losing only a couple of games and I think we have the talent to beat anybody. We just haven’t been as consistent as we need to be.” The Bears (0-18 overall, 0-12 conference) are a far cry from the seniorladen team which took third in the tournament a year ago. They have struggled to replace the likes of veterans Aaron Henry, Steve Arca and others. If the Bears are going to pull the huge upset of HLP, they will need stellar play from underclassmen Jaron Raining Bird and JC Hawk. The Bears and the T-Birds will kick off the boys tournament on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. inside the HHS gymnasium. The second first-round game on Wednesday will feature third-seeded Rocky Boy (12-6 overall, 8-4 conference) against sixth-seeded Turner (5- 13 overall, 2-10 conference). Rocky Boy is as hot as any team in the 9C with recent victories over top seeds Big Sandy and HLP, as well as victory over class B power Harlem. The Stars are led by swing players Bryant Eagleman and Mike Sangrey Jr., as well as Vincent Gone. They have also been helped by the recent emergence of 6-6 freshman forward Erik Schildt. “I think that the league is pretty wide open right now,” Rocky Boy head coach Andy Smith said. “Big Sandy and HLP are probably the favorites, but I think that any team can be beaten on any given night.” Turner will look to seniors Chad Jones and Logan Fouts to spearhead the Tornados into action against the Stars.
The Tornados look to rebound from a disappointing regular season with a couple of upset wins in the post-season. “We have had a lot of chances to win games this year,” Turner head coach Kevin Keller said. “But we just haven’t been able to get over the hump. But we still think we can compete with anyone.” Rocky Boy swept Turner during the regular season, winning both games handily. The two teams will tip it off on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. The winner will play the winner of the HLP/Box Elder game in the semifinals on Thursday at 8 p.m. The final first-round game will matchup fourth-seeded North Star and fifth-seeded Chinook. North Star (12-6 overall, 8-4 conference) finished tied for third with Rocky Boy, but finished fourth after losing a coin toss. The Knights boast two returning All-Conference players in Branden Melby and Darius Wendland, as well as legendary coach Charlie Robinson. Chinook (5-13 overall, 4-8 conference) struggled through a good portion of the regular season, but own a recent victory over Rocky Boy. The Beeters also own the best combination of scoring and rebounding in the tournament in senior forward Marty Birky. “I think we’re really close right now,” Chinook head coach Chris Daniels said. “We have improved a lot over the course of the year and I think that we have the ability to beat anyone.” North Star and Chinook will square off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday with the winner advancing to take on Big Sandy Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Co-champion Big Sandy will have the luxury of sitting back and relaxing, while the rest of the league dukes it out in the opening round. The Pioneers (16-2 overall, 10-2 conference) are led by spectacular scorer Chris LaBuda, who will run the point the 9C’s most potent offense. LaBuda is helped by a frontcourt filled with freshmen standouts Blake Brumwell and Corbin Pearson. Also on the side of Big Sandy will be the legendary coaching abilities of Roy Lackner. “We can certainly beat you,” Lackner said. “We are going to have to play some tough teams if we want to get to divisionals, but if we play well we are going to be a tough team to beat.” The top two teams will advance to the Northern C Divisional next weekend in Great Falls. The winners of the semi-final games will meet in the championship on Saturday at 8 p.m. The third-place game will take place on Saturday at 2:30 pm.