George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
With the Central A boy's and girl's basketball tournament set to invade the CMR Fieldhouse this year, Great Falls will certainly be a hoops hotbed this weekend. But the center of it all will still be the Four Seasons Arena where the annual Northern C boy's and girl's divisional tournament will be held, starting today with the first round of the boys event. In all, 16 teams from North Central Montana will come to the Four Seasons this weekend with six spots in Class C state tournament's on the line. In today's first round of the boy's tournament, the action begins with District 9C runner-up Big Sandy looking to get back to the state tournament for a second straight season. The Pioneers (13-8) will take on District 7C champion, and No.1-ranked Winfred (20-0) at 1 in the opening game of the afternoon session. The Pioneers stumbled through the regular season, losing six games without star forward Blake Brumwell. They also had to endure a stretch without super sophomore Corbin Pearson. But at the 9C tournament last weekend, Big Sandy looked sharp in wins over North Star and defending Class C champion Hays-Lodge Pole. The Pioneers also played a stellar first half against Rocky Boy in the 9C championship game, only to come up short in the second half against the Stars. Big Sandy and Winifred also have a history. The Red Raiders beat the Pioneers twice during the regular season, including an 86-33 thumping of Big Sandy back on Jan. 27. In that game however, the Pioneers were missing both Brumwell and Pearson, and now both players are back healthy and they combined to average nearly 35 points and 20 rebounds per game in the 9C tournament. Big Sandy was also solid on the outside in the tourney, as Ryne LaBuda and Darin Ray shot the ball well from the field. The Red Raiders will counter Big Sandy's size with some of their own. Winifred has two stellar players in swingman Brian Foran, who averaged over 20 points per game in the regular season. Joe Econom is another scorer the Red Raiders can count on in the Northern C tourney. Meanwhile, the 9C champion Rocky Boy Stars (17-3) will take the floor in their first Northern C game since winning the tournament back in 2005, tonight at 7:30 against 7C runner-up Moore-Judith Gap (13-9). The Stars looked almost flawless in their two victories last week in Havre, crushing Box Elder in the semifinals and overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit in the 9C championship game against Big Sandy. Like Winifred, Rocky Boy is a heavy favorite this week and with good reason. The Stars are scoring nearly 85 points per game, and they have four players in double figures led by 6-5 sophomore Erik Schildt. Schildt is averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds per game to go along with 15 points from Rodney Turn Toes and 14 points from Mike Sangrey Jr. Jarod Parker adds to the Rocky Boy offense by scoring 11 points per contest, and the Stars might be the deepest team in the field to boot, as head coach Tim Henry routinely plays 10 to 11 players every game. Sandwhiched in between the two 9C games today are intriguing matchup between District 10 runner-up Chester/J-I (15-6) and 8C champion Augusta (16-5) tonight at 6, as well as a game between 10C champion Sunburst(13-8) and 8C runner-up Belt (12-9) this afternoon at 2:30. The winners of those games will play the winners of the 7C/9C matchups in Friday's semifinals. The C/J-I Hawks cruised to a 14-4 record in the regular season, but an injury to Callen McKinley slowed them down a bit and they were upset in the semifinals of the 10C tournament in Cut Bank. C/J-I then won three games in a row, including a Monday night challenge game against Valier to reach today's first round of the Northern C tournament. The Hawks are an athletic team with good post play and perimeter shooters like Dillon Hayes, Sean Dailey and Tyler Han. And in the 10C tournament, Shay Richter and Garrett Graff started to pick up some of the scoring slack left by McKinley. Meanwhile, at the start of the season, Augusta was thought to be the top team in the Northern C, but injuries left over from the Elk's run to the Six- Man state football playoffs hurt them early on, and they are just now getting back to full strength and they cruised to the 8C title last weekend in Great Falls. Against C/J-I, Augusta will relay heavily on the scoring of star JC Isakson, who put in 37 points in the 8C championship game. The Elks also got solid contributions from Derek Delwoo and Matt Bean. The Northern C boy's tournament will play its first two loser-out games on Thursday morning and the semifi- nals are Friday at 3:15 and 5 p.m. The boy's championship game is slated for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night and the top three teams from the field will advance to the Class C state tournament next week in Butte. While the boys take center stage today, the girls will have the court on Thursday, and the fun begins at 1 p.m. with District 9C Cinderella Box Elder (16-6) taking on 7C champion Winifred (16-4). The Bears made a magical run through the 9C tournament, beating higher seeds North Star and Rocky Boy in back-to-back games to reach their first divisional tournament since 2003. And Box Elder won't just be satisfied with getting to Great Falls, the Bears have dreams of getting to the state tournament, and those dreams aren't unrealistic. With the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Class C in Big Sandy and Highwood on the same side of the bracket, the top half is up for grabs and Box Elder, led by Rokki Parker, Arielle Wolfchief, Jamie Montes and a pair of talented freshmen, has as good a chance as any to reach Saturday night's championship game. The winner of the Winifred/Box Elder game will take on the winner of Thursday's 2:30 p.m. game between District 10C champion Sunburst (14-6) and 8C runner-up Belt (18-4). Interestingly, the Huskies had to challenge their way into the tournament, and the Refiners are a team that Box Elder beat twice during the regular season. And as wide open as the top half of the Northern C girl's draw might be, the bottom half of the bracket is topteam heavy. On Thursday night at 6 p.m., the No. 2 Highwood Mountaineers (21-0), a team that has been to the last two state tournament's, will take the floor against 10C runner-up Heart Butte (14-7). The Mountaineers have arguably one of the best players in Class C in 5-10 Rachael Semansky, but they also have a great supporting cast around her. Guards Katie Bahnmiller and Sammi Granger can score in bunches, and Highwood's starting five rivals any in the state. And in the nightcap on Thursday, 9C champion Big Sandy (20-0) will try to get back to the Class C state tournament after just missing out last season. The Pioneers have barely been challenged this season but they might get one from 7C runner-up Moore-Judith Gap (18-2) in the first round. Big Sandy has been beating opponents by an average of nearly 15 points per game, and the Pioneers were never threatened in their two 9C-tournament wins. The Pioneers are deep and big, led by forwards Laci Keller, Shersteen Cline and Morgan Darlington. But the front-line isn't Big Sandy's only strong point, as guards Josi Herron and Kourtney Danreuther have come on strong this season, making Big Sandy one of the most versatile teams in Class C basketball. And that's what makes the Northern C such an intriguing tournament, because if Big Sandy and Highwood both prevail on Thursday, the two powerhouses will collide in Friday night's last semifinal at 8:30 p.m. The first girl's semifinal is slated to tip off at 6 p. m. on Friday. There will also be two loser-out contests for the girls on Friday morning and two more on Saturday morning. The consolation game is set for Saturday at 4:45 p.m. and the girl's championship game will tip off at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday night. The top three teams from the Northern C will advance to play in the Class C state tournament March 6-8 in Belgrade.