By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The Big Sandy Pioneers put together two quarters of quality basketball, but could not hold off the Hays/Lodgepole Thunderbirds' flashing attack.
The Thunderbirds picked up a 68-46 win in first-round action at the District 9C tournament at the Havre High School gymnasium on Wednesday night.
Big Sandy (0-10, 1-16) entered the tournament as the sixth seed.
The Pioneers scored first and held as much as a 14-7 lead with 2:21 to play in the first quarter.
Pioneer freshman Chris Yirsa lit up the 3-point line in the first quarter, nailing three treys and one 2-point shot from the top of the key. He finished with 11 points in the effort.
The Pioneers led 20-11 at the end of one quarter.
However, the second-seeded Thunderbirds (8-3, 12-7) opened the second quarter with a 12-0 run to lead 23-20 with 3:00 left in the half.
The Thunderbirds utilized a sizzling fast break off defensive rebounds and strong inside between Darwin Doney and Willie Stiffarm to initiate the run.
Doney finished with 13 points and Stiffarm had 10 in the game. Stiffarm, who did not start, led the players off the bench in scoring. The Thunderbirds' bench outscored Big Sandy's, 22-1 in the game.
Big Sandy's Daniel Weaver broke the shooting slump with 2:07 remaining in the half to cut the T'Bird lead to 23-22 and Billy Pierce nailed one 3-pointer with 1:19 on the clock to lead 25-23.
Weaver scored 11 points for Big Sandy and Pierce had six in the contest.
But a great hustle play under the basket by Jonas Flansburg led to a bucket by Stiffarm with seconds to go.
The game was knotted at 25-25 at the end of the half.
The Thunderbirds went on two separate 7-0 runs in the third quarter and outscored the Pioneers 24-13 in the quarter.
Big Sandy struggled behind 23 percent shooting from the field in the second half, while Hays shot a blistering 54 percent.
Shawn Shambo, a sophomore who leads the Thunderbirds in scoring, popped a 3-pointer and the Doney's Ervin and Darwin chipped in a combined three baskets to spark the Thunderbirds in the quarter.
During the final three minutes of the quarter, the Thunderbirds outscored the Pioneers 12-4, entering the final stanza.
Shambo, who finished with a game-high 25 points, opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer. He dominated the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, hitting another 3-pointer and connecting on both ends of a bonus foul shot situation.
In more than three minutes of play, the Pioneers scored just once one free throw by Calenn Heppner while Hays tallied seven points to sew up the victory.
During the regular season, Hays won both games (70-59, 85-48). Shambo, who went 9-of-14 from the field last night and 5-for-10 from 3-point land, tallied game-high numbers in both matchups during the season.
Big Sandy will face Turner tonight in loser-out action at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium. The two teams did not meet during the regular season.
Hays will face Blue Sky on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The two teams did not meet during the regular season.