George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
Thanks to a third-place finish by Hays-Lodge Pole at the District 9C tournament two weeks ago in Havre, there won't be a repeat champion at the Class C boy's state basketball tournament this year. And thanks to a second-place finish by the Rocky Boy Stars last weekend at the Northern C Divisional tournament in Great Falls, the 9C will only have once chance to be the state champion when the Class C state tournament culminates on Saturday night in Butte, because this morning, in the opening round of the tournament, one of the two 9C teams in the field will already get pushed into the loser-out bracket. Rocky Boy, which captured the 9C title, but lost 60-53 last Saturday night to Winifred in the Northern C championship game, will take on district rival Big Sandy this morning in the play-in game. The winner will keep its state title hopes alive, while the loser will have a long road back to the consolation game. Today at the Butte Civic Center the Stars (19-4) will try to beat Big Sandy for a fourth time this season, putting the Pioneers in an eerily familiar role. Big Sandy, which finished second at the 9C tournament, played HLP five times last season, winning once, but losing all three postseason games, including the state championship game in Great Falls. So today, the Pioneers will try to do something they couldn't do last year, which was beat a district rival in the postseason. And Big Sandy might just have better luck this time around, because although the Pioneers finished third in Great Falls last weekend, they come into Butte healthy for the first time all season, and playing good basketball. "I like where we're at right now," Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. "Most teams have had all season to prepare for these tournament's but because of our injuries, we're just starting over. And we're starting come around." Indeed, the Pioneers played most of the season without star forward Blake Brumwell, and several games without swingman Corbin Pearson. But at the Northern C tourney, the Pioneers got nearly 30 points and 20 rebounds out of the duo and both look to be in good from heading into the state tournament. The Pioneers also get solid production and leadership from senior Darin Ray, as well as steady guard play and some hot 3-point shooting from junior Ryne LaBuda. But today, Big Sandy will have to contend with Rocky Boy, a team the Pioneers have had little success against this season. The Stars looked like the team to beat last weekend in Great Falls, but a furious fourth-quarter rally by unbeaten Winifred kept them from capturing their second division title in four years. Still, Rocky Boy comes into today's game as the top offensive team in the field, averaging nearly 85 points per game. The Stars also have four players who average in double figures led by Rodney Turn Toes and Mike Sangrey Jr. Erik Schildt and Jarod Parker also score in double figures, and Rocky Boy head coach Tim Henry can go as many as 11 deep from his bench. The key to Rocky Boy's success this weekend will be its transition game. The Stars were forced into a half-court game against Winifred last Saturday, and they didn't make enough shots to quell Winifred's late-game charge. The winner of the Rocky Boy/Big Sandy game will move into the first round of the tournament where it will face Eastern C champion Scobey tonight at 8. The Spartans had an up-anddown regular season, but cruised to the Eastern C title. The rest of the bottom side of the bracket features Southern C champion Plenty Coups, a tournament favorite, taking on Western C runner-up Sheilds Valley at 6:30. Plenty Coups (22-1) had a remarkable one-loss season and went undefeated until a loss in the district tournament. The Warriors are a high-scoring bunch, but are paced by their size inside with 6-7 Alston Smart Enemy and 6-6 Buddy Door. Shields Valley (20-4) is making its second straight trip to the state tournament and the Rebels are led by Ryan Ferguson and Tanner Freemont. While Rocky Boy and Big Sandy give the Northern C a strong presence on one side of the bracket, the top-ranked team in the state and two undefeated teams appear headed for a clash in the semifinals. Winifred, the Northern C champion, comes in to today's first-round matchup at 2 a perfect 23-0. The Red Raiders will face a strong Fairview team, but its state championship or bust for Winifred this season. The Red Raiders, like Rocky Boy, are very deep and very talented. They start several four seniors, led by 6-1 Brian Foran and 6-4 DJ Dyer. The Raiders also have the size and athleticism to match up with any body as evidenced by wins over both the Pioneers and Stars last week in Great Falls. Fairview also has formidable size led by University of Montana football recruit Greg Hardy (6-5). And in the tournament's first game of the opening round, undefeated Twin Bridges (22-0) will square off against Wibaux, a team making its third straight trip to the state tournament. The 2008 Class C state tournament gets under way this morning and runs through Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center.