Only two teams were left standing after last weekend’s District 9C boys basketball tournament. But surviving the 9C means another weekend packed with even tougher competition for the two lucky teams with extended seasons.
And joining the Pioneers and Beeters will be 17-3 Roy-Winifred (No. 1 7C), 19-1 Highwood (No. 1 8C), 14-6 Power (No. 1 10C), 14-7 Dutton-Brady (No. 2 10C), 14-6 Centerville (No. 2 8C) and 17-4 Stanford-Geyser (No. 2 7C).
Big Sandy will take on Centerville today at 6 p.m. And Chinook will take on the heavily favored Highwood squad today at 2:30 p.m.
“We are looking forward to this,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “There were six teams at our pre season tournament that are going to be at divisionals, so we have seen most of the teams, and we have a good idea of what they are like.”
And after missing out on the Northern C last season, junior guard Trevor Lackner is excited to be back for the first time since Big Sandy won the state title his freshman year.
“We missed out on Divisionals last year and that was just a bummer,” Trevor Lackner said. “A lot of these guys don’t know what it feels like to play (in the Northern C). Me, Kaden Beck and Zac Leader were the only ones to make it to districts, so for the rest of the team this is new.”
The Pioneers know they are one of the favorites to advance to state as either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. But they also know they have to battle through a tough field of talent to do so. Starting with Centerville, the Pioneers know they have to play well, or teams like Highwood and Power could steal the top two spots and send the Pioneer home without a state birth.
Ideally, the Pioneers are looking to play like they did when they won the 9C title last Saturday in Havre. In the win over Chinook, the Pioneers showed just what they are capable of when they play at their desired tempo on offense, press the opposing offense with a mixture of defensive looks, take care of the ball, and hit shots inside and out. Easier said than done, but Trevor Lackner, Zac Leader, Kaden Beck, Justin Stevens and Jessey Bailey have led the Pioneers all season long and will surely carry the load again.
“This is just a great opportunity and we are really excited to get back on that floor,” Coach Lackner said. “We like to pressure teams, and push it at them, take it at them the entire time. That is how we feel we can win games.”
The Sugarbeeters have their hands full right off the bat, facing one of the top teams in the state.
The Highwood Mountaineers have suffered just one loss this season, that coming to Big Sandy early in the season. But since then, the Mountaineers have devoured the completion and are riding a nice wave of momentum out of the 8C tournament last weekend.
But despite the heavy completion right away, the Beeters are excited to make their third straight appearance.
“The kids are very ecstatic to be headed to the Northern C,” Chinook head coach Mike Seymour said. “The competition is going to be very stiff, I think six or seven of the teams that were there last year are there again. It is another level, and once you are there the level of play steps up. We are going to have to be ready.”
But a third straight appearance isn’t enough; the Beeters are looking to make the state tournament. And with the field of competition ahead of them, there are a few specific things the Beeters know will make or break their efforts. Rebounding and turnovers will be key, and that falls on everybody. Weather it is Scott Schmitt, Lane Seymour, Brandon Riphenburg, or Zach Molyneaux outside, or Grant Tilleman or Barry Murnion inside, whoever is on the floor has to step up, take care of the ball, block out and crash the boards.
That is what will make the difference according to coach Seymour.
“I think we need to take care of the ball and control the rebound game,” Seymour said. “If we can do anything, we want to limit those turnovers and control the rebounds.”
Both Chinook and Big Sandy stand a solid chance at making it past the Northern C, and into the state tournament, but it is an obvious uphill battle for any team with that goal. And with two tough teams waiting for the local 9C talent in the first round, they have to play well right from the opening tip.
Today the Beeters will face Highwood at 2:30 p.m., and the Beeters will face Centerville at 6 p.m. at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The top two teams from the Northern C advance to the Class C state tournament March 1-3 in Billings.