GREAT FALLS — If either the Box Elder Bears or the Big Sandy Pioneers’ season was going to come to an end at the Northern C Divisional boys basketball tournament, it was only right that it ended at the hands of the other.
And that’s exactly how things unfolded Saturday afternoon at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. In the fourth meeting of the season between the two 9C rivals separated by just 11 miles, the Pioneers held the Bears scoreless for the final 3:40 of the Northern C loser-out contest and won 58-57.
The win over Box Elder was gratifying for the Pioneers considering Box Elder edged them just seven days earlier in the 9C title game in Havre. It was also big because it gave Big Sandy a chance to keep its state tournament hopes alive, while Box Elder’s season ended a bit prematurely.
“Playing Box Elder is like playing at home,” Big Sandy’s Zac Leader said. “We all know each other so well. We know it’s always going to be close when we play each other. I think today, we got the ball inside more. That was the game plan, just like it was last week against them. But today it worked better. They didn’t defend us inside as hard as they did last week. So this was big.”
The Pioneers and Bears are in much different places right now. Big Sandy has four out-going senior starters while the Bears will return all five starters next season from a team which won 18 games and won both the 9C regular season and tournament titles.
“We restored Bear pride to this program,” Box Elder head coach Jeremy MacDonald said. “We took what Zane Rossette started here and we built on it. So I’m very proud of this team and what they achieved this season. They are a great group of kids and they work hard.”
And both teams played hard Saturday morning, with so much on the line.
The Bears went on a 7-0 run and led 11-4 early on. But Big Sandy responded with a run of its own, including two Jessey Bailey 3-pointers. Ultimately, the Pioneers led 21-17 after eight minutes, and when Jerry Hanson tipped in a shot at the halftime buzzer, the Pioneers were in front 39-31.
Big Sandy kept ahold of the lead for the entire third quarter, thanks in large part to another Bailey three. Box Elder had cut the lead to 44-41, but Bailey drilled a shot in the corner, and that propelled the Pioneers to a 54-47 lead with just eight minutes left.
“I thought we did some things better today than we did against them (Bears) last week,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “We rebounded well, we stopped them in transition a little better this game and we executed against their pressure a little better.”
But control seems to be an illusion when the Bears and Pioneers play and Box Elder wasted no time in erasing the Pioneer lead as the Bears went on a 10-1 fourth-quarter run, which included two three’s by Clayton Morsette Jr. And when Randall Gardipee scored in a high floater with 3:20 left, the Bears led 57-56. Box Elder however, never scored again. And Big Sandy didn’t score much, but two Trevor Lackner free throws were enough to lift the Pioneers to the one-point victory. In all, neither team scored in the final 2:45.
“One of the things we have struggled with this season is execution on offense at times,” MacDonald said. “I think it’s youth and inexperience and it hurt us today. We had the ball several times at the end of the game, and we just didn’t execute how we wanted. So that’s something we’ll have to work harder on going into next year, because when you get this far, you have to execute.”
Lackner led the way with game high’s in points (18) and rebounds (11), while Leader had a big game with 15 points and nine boards. Bailey added 11 points and three of Big Sandy’s four trey’s.
Box Elder got 15 points each from Gardipee and Morsette, while Lonnie Plain Bull scored 12 for the Bears, who will already be looked at as one of the top teams in Class C next season.
Outlaws pull away from Bears
The Box Elder-Big Sandy rematch Saturday morning was set up by the Bears’ loss to top-ranked Roy-Winifred in Friday night’s Northern C semifinal in Great Falls. The Outlaws used a huge second-quarter run to turn the Bears away 62-53.
The semifinal bout was billed to be one of the top games of the tournament, and in the first quarter, Box Elder made it that way by racing out to an 18-15 lead. The Bears’ early surge included two three’s by Lonnie Plain Bull, one from Clayton Morsette Jr. and a three at the buzzer from Nathan Parker.
However, the Outlaws have 6-6 Joe Stulc and super-guard Chad Kananen, and together, they got the Outlaws going in the second and third quarters. In that 16-minute stretch, the Outlaws out-scored the Bears 31-17 and took 46-35 lead into the final stanza. The Red Raiders added a 10-2 run in the fourth to build the lead to 54-39, and while Box Elder tried to rally, the lead was too much to overcome.
In the semifinal loss, the Bears got 14 points from Randall Gardipee and Lonnie Plain Bull added 12, while the Outlaws, who advanced to meet Highwood in the championship game, got 19 from Kanenen and 15 and nine boards from Stulc.
“We have come a long way,” MacDonald said. “We won two championships this season. We didn’t achieve all of our goals, but I told the kids, they need to hold their heads high and be proud of what they’ve done this season.”
Roy-Winifred 62, Box Elder 53 (sf)
Roy-Winifred 15 18 13 16 — 62
Box Elder 18 10 7 18 0 — 53
Roy-Winifred — Tucker Matovich 12, Chad Kananen 19, Samu Soini 6, Jordan Harrell 9, Luke Stulc 15, Lee Thompson 1. Totals: 22 14-19.
Box Elder — Brandon The Boy 3, Clayton Morsette Jr. 9, Randall Gardipee 14, Jacob Jones 2, Nathan Parker 9, Thomas Parisian 4, Lonnie Plain Bull Jr. 12. Totals: 18 8-10.
Halftime: Roy-Winifred 33-28. 3-pointers: Box Elder 9-25 (The Boy 1, Morsette 2, Gardipee 1, Parker 3, Plain Bull 2), R-W 4-15 (Kanenen 1, Harrell 3). Rebounds: Box Elder 17 (Plain Bull 7), R-W 26 (Stulc 9). Fouls: Box Elder 16, R-W 11. Fouled out: None.
Big Sandy 58, Box Elder 57 (lo)
Box Elder 17 14 16 10 — 57
Big Sandy 21 18 15 4 — 58
Box Elder – Brandon The Boy 6, Clayton Morsette Jr. 16, Randall Gardipee 15, Nathan Parker 2, Thomas Parisian 4, Lonnie Plain Bull Jr. 12, Kylee Fiddler 2. Totals: 22 8-9.
Big Sandy — Jerry Hanson 8, Trevor Lackner 18, Kaden Beck 6, Zac Leader 15, Jessey Bailey 11. Totals: 22 10-17.
Halftime: Big Sandy 39-31. 3-pointers: Big Sandy 4-10 (Hanson 1, Bailey 3), Box Elder 5-20 (The Boy 1, Morsette 1, Parker 1, Plain Bull 2). Rebounds: Big Sandy 34 (Lackner 11), Box Elder 30 (Parisian 9). Fouls: Big Sandy 21, Box Elder 16. Fouled out: None.