Thunderbirds capture second straight Northern C title, T-Birds and Pioneers move on to state tourney
Chris Peterson Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
GREAT FALLS For a moment, it appeared that the Northern C boys championship game between Hays- Lodge Pole and Big Sandy was going to be a classic thriller. However, in the end, HLP turned out to have too much firepower for the Pioneers to handle. Behind the stellar play of the Thunderbirds’ big four of A.J. Long Soldier, Cole McCabe, Lenny Grey and Lance Brockie, HLP fought off every Big Sandy challenge on its way to a 71- 62 victory, giving the T-Birds their second consecutive Northern C divisional championship on Saturday night at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The four players accounted for 61 of HLP’s 71 points on Saturday night. McCabe led the way with 18 points, while Long Soldier added 15 points. Brockie nailed four treys to notch 14 points as did Grey in the win. “This was by far the toughest game of the season for us,” HLP head coach Charlie Ereaux said. “This was the fourth time we have played them and this was the closest game. Both teams match up well with each other, so it made for a great game. But our guys just did what they had to do to come out on top.” Down 37-31 at halftime, the Pioneers pulled within two points at 40-38 after a 3-pointer by freshman Corbin Pearson with 4:38 left in the third quarter. But HLP responded with a 10-2 run to close out the quarter, highlighted by treys from Long Soldier and McCabe to take a 50-40 lead heading into the final stanza. Long Soldier hit two more jump shots early in the fourth quarter to extend the T-Birds’ lead to 55-44 with 6:08 remaining in the game. “Long Soldier made some really big plays at the end of the game,” Ereaux said. “They did a good job of doubleteaming him throughout most of the game, but when we needed it, he came through for us with some big shots.” Said Long Soldier: “I don’t get nervous at the end of games. I guess it’s just the intensity of the moment, but I like having the ball in my hands.” Big Sandy made one last run at the T-Birds, getting within six points at 60- 54 after back-to-back baskets from Blake Brumwell and Chris LaBuda with 3:15 left in the game. But the T-Birds finished off the Pioneers with a 9-0 run, spearheaded by a pair of baskets by Grey, making the score 69-54 with just over a minute remaining, icing the game and the Northern C title. “They are just a tough team to beat.” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “I thought we played pretty well for the most part. But we just couldn’t make any shots when we needed to. If we could have made some of those shots, it might have turned out a little differently.” Brumwell was outstanding in defeat for the Pioneers, scoring 24 points in the loss. Corin Pearson also had a solid game, notching 15 points. The two teams went back and forth in the first half, and after a three-point play by Brumwell, the score was tied at 16-16, in the second quarter. Then the Pioneers scored six straight points to take a 26-22 lead with 2:48 left in the first half. But Big Sandy couldn’t hold the lead for long, as the T-Birds went on a 10-2 run to end the half, taking a 32-28 halftime lead. “I am really proud of these guys,” Ereaux said. “They are all just so unselfish. They all do what is best for the team. “But we still have work left to do,” he added. “We are just going to take it one game at a time.” HLP made its way into the championship by way of a 73-57 win over Highwood on Friday night. Long Soldier led the T-Birds with 20 points in the game. Grey added 16 points and nine rebounds, while McCabe also pitched in with 16 points. Big Sandy advanced past the semifinals by knocking off underdog Augusta by the slimmest of margins, 51-50, on Friday night. Brumwell had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Pearson also had a solid game with a double double of his own, with 12 points and 10 boards. Big Sandy will now advance to the state tournament where the Piooners will take on Highwood. Highwood advanced to the state tournament after knocking off Augusta in the Northern C consolation game 66-54 on Saturday. The two teams will meet on March 8 at 11 a.m. inside the Four Seasons Arena. The 2007 Class C state tournament will run form March 8-10 in Great Falls.