Yes, it is that time of the year again, tournament time, and yet another District 9C basketball tournament is set to take over the Havre High gymnasium this week.
Wednesday-Saturday, the District 9C boys basketball tournament will make the Havre High gymnasium its home. The championship game is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m., while a challenge game is also scheduled for Monday at 7:30 p.m. (6 p.m. if there is no girls challenge game) if necessary.
This season, the Box Elder Bears enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed, achieving a 9-1 conference record and a 15-3 overall. The Big Sandy Pioneers claimed the No. 2 seed, also with a conference record of 9-1, but a 12-6 record overall. Also competing this week will be the No. 3 Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds (5-5, 8-10), the No. 4 Chinook Sugarbeeters (5-5, 10-8), the No. 5 Turner Tornadoes (2-8, 4-14), and the No. 6 North Star Knights (0-10, 3-15).
Both the Bears and Pioneers are the favorites heading into this years’ tournament. They both earned first-round byes, and will have to win just one game each to reach Saturday’s final.
The Beeters and Tornadoes will face off on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. And the Thunderbirds and Knights will face off on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The winner of the Chinook/Turner game will have the task of facing Box Elder in the semifinals on Thursday, while the winner of the HLP/North Star game will have just as difficult a semifinal game, facing Big Sandy.
A year ago, it was the Pioneers who won the 9C title, defeating the Beeters in the championship game. Chinook joined Big Sandy in Great Falls for the Northern C tournament, but had to beat a surging Knights’ team in the challenge game before their ticket was punched. This year the Pioneers are one of the favorites to reach the Northern C again, but will have to play very well to ensure they make it, or to beat the No. 1 Bears, another favorite to extend their season.
“We have beaten everybody,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “But you know, Box Elder and Chinook are both tough teams. Box Elder is the team to look at this season, but we can beat them, we beat them in Box Elder this season, so we can play with them.”
The Bears and Pioneers have a lot of firepower, making it hard for some of the 9C teams to keep pace. The Bears have great depth, and are paced by the likes of Brandon The Boy, Randal Gardipee, Lonnie Plain Bull, and Clayton Morsette Jr. The Pioneers don’t have depth on their side, but they have a lot of varsity talent with Trevor Lackner, Zac Leader, Jessey Bailey, and Kaden Beck leading the way.
The Beeters are sitting in fourth place in the standings, but their 5-5 conference record makes them dangerous. The same can be said about the Thunderbirds, as both teams proved they can challenge the rest of the field, especially if they are overlooked.
“I think we have as good of chance as everybody else,” Head coach Mike Seymour said. “It is going to be a heck of a tournament, but we have to control areas of the game. Rebounding is very critical for us, as well as we have to limit our turnovers and just execute our offense. We have to play smart and execute, and hopefully we can do that.”
Zach Molyneaux, Scott Schmitt, Jacob McLean, Lane Seymour and Grant Tilleman will be the key to the Beeters’ success. And HLP’s hopes will most likely depend on the play of Marvin Cole, Jeff Sorrell, Gage Essert, Darnell Parisian and Jalen Brockie.
Meanwhile, it could be a tough weekend for the Tornadoes and Knights.
Both teams have struggled this season, and will find it very difficult to earn wins in the tourney. Turner’s two 9C wins have come over the Knights, while the Knights went winless in conference this play this season. Lucas Reed and Dylan Welsh have led Turner this season, while North Star’s production has mostly come from Cooper Spicher and Quinn Spinler.
“We are excited this year,” Turner head coach Kevin VanValkenburg said. “Hopefully we can be sneaky and surprise somebody. We need to be more disciplined and play our kind of game. Turnovers have kind of hurt us, but we just need to play our style of ball.”
Wednesday-Saturday, the District 9C boys tournament will take place at the Havre High gymnasium in Havre. The top two teams from the 9C will advance to the Northern C Divisional next Thursday in Great Falls.
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Fans can follow the 9C tournament as it unfolds with live updates at www.havredailynews.com, as well as on Twitter at Twitter/Havredaily. Also watch for all of our coverage Thursday, Friday and Monday in the print edition of the Havre Daily News.