By Rob Everingham
MISSOULA -- They went down with hopes of winning it all, but Roy Lackner's Big Sandy Pioneers finished the 1999 Class C state tournament in third place.
The Pioneers lost their only game of the season on Friday night to Reedpoint by just one point.
Big Sandy finished the year with a 26-1 record as they came back on Saturday and won both games.
On Saturday morning, it was a rematch of the Northern C final, as the Pioneers took on Denton and got a 61-56 win over the Trojans.
Big Sandy jumped out early and took a 21-10 lead after one quarter of play. Denton fought back in the second to cut the Pioneer lead to 31-22 at the half.
The Trojans spent the second half trying to battle their way back into the game, but the Pioneers stayed strong and came out with the win.
Sasha Ritter led the way for the Pioneers with 21 points.
In the consolation final on Saturday night, the Pioneers faced Drummond. Big Sandy picked up the third place trophy with a 43-34 win.
All four teams that played on Saturday night had won their division and had a combined record of 101-4 going into the final night.
It was a tight game in the first quarter, as the Drummond Trojans took a one point lead at 9-8. Drummond kept the pressure on in the second quarter and outscored the Pioneers by one point again, to lead 20-18 at the half.
Big Sandy came out of the locker room determined, and held Drummond to just three third-quarter points. Drummond outscored Big Sandy by one point in the fourth, but it was too little, too late.
Ritter led the Pioneers' scoring attack with 13, while Kristi Upham had 11 points.
Both Ritter and Upham were named to the Class C state all-tournament team.
Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said they managed to salvage a little pride on Saturday. Overall, for the tournament, Lackner said, his team played well.
In the one-point loss to Reedpoint, Lackner said, his team did not play with confidence and that cost them the game. Lackner also cited missed shots and too many turnovers as other factors.
Lackner did say, though, that he was pleased his team could get up on Saturday morning and play as well as they did.
"We played some good basketball," Lackner said.
As for the season overall, Lackner said, it was a great accomplishment to go 26-1 and to have your one loss come by just one point in a game that could have gone either way.
The Pioneers lose three seniors this year in Ritter, Tiffany Jamieson, and Jessica Curl. Ritter was the only starter.
Lackner knows he has a lot of returners back, but, he said, so do a lot of other good teams in the state and in the division. Both Chester and Centerville are in the same boat, with just losing one starter.
While the Pioneers had high goals this year and were ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season, Lackner said, he is pleased with the season.
"You've just got to catch some breaks in games," Lackner said.
Lackner said the whole team did an outstanding job all season.