By Kim Staudinger
The Rocky Boy Northern Stars accomplished one of the goals they had had all season win the district 9C championship.
Rocky Boy entered this weekend's 9C tournament as the No. 4 seed, something players and coaches said was the result of a somewhat disappointing season.
The Stars' goal coming into the tournament was to prove to others that they belong at the next level. To do this, the Stars needed to defend their district title.
With the consolation game already decided, Rocky Boy knew they would advance to the divisional tournament. But that wasn't good enough. They wanted the title to go with it.
"We were assured we were going to the divisional tournament," Rocky Boy head coach Tim Henry said. "But we didn't want to go in number two."
Down seven at the half, Rocky Boy was on the brink of losing the championship. But with a little reminder from Coach Henry at the half, the Stars turned things around in the second half. That pep talk motivated his team to outscore Hays-Lodge Pole by 12 points en route to a 72-67 win in the title game.
Henry said he simply told his team in the locker room that they needed to run harder, get back on defense and hustle more.
"Even if we scored, they were still beating us with the long passes," Henry said. "We still couldn't get back on defense."
Junior Marcus Standing Rock said his team "certainly didn't want to lose to Hays," but thought the team wasn't doing its best in the first half.
"I don't think we were playing aggressive and we weren't playing with any heart," Standing Rock said. "Some of our teammates were playing kind of selfish ball." Standing Rock said Coach Henry's haftime talk helped turn things around for the Stars.
"In the first half, they outplayed us because they were playing as a team and we were playing as individuals," Standing Rock said. "I think that's why they lost; they were trying to go to individuals."
At the beginning of the third quarter, the Thunderbirds maintained a seven-point lead until the five-minute mark, when Rocky Boy began to make its comeback. Consecutive baskets by junior Dustin Sunchild (game high 24 points) cut the lead to 43-40. After a basket by Adam Demontiney with 2:33 remaining in the quarter, Rocky Boy was within two. Seconds later Standing Rock stole the ball and was fouled on the made putback attempt. Standing Rock made his free throw to give the Stars the lead for the first time in the second half.
"Hays kind of had us in what they wanted to do for a while," Henry said. "It took us a while to get in our game plan."
Elmer Fox erased Rocky Boy's brief lead with his only points of the game, coming off a three-point basket. Demontiney followed Fox's three with a score of his own, once again tying the game.
Two baskets in the last 30 seconds of the quarter by Sunchild gave the Stars a two-point lead giong into the last eight minutes of play.
Rocky Boy led by five for most of the final quarter, with the lead growing to 10 points with 1:17 remaining. But missed free throws down the stretch hurt Rocky Boy and allowed the Thunderbirds to remain in the game.
With 11 seconds remaining, Nathan Martin banked a three-point shot from the left corner to pull Hays-Lodge Pole to within three. Four seconds later Rocky Boy senior Mike Morsette was sent to the free-throw line again. This time Morsette made both free throws to seal the victory and the title for the Stars.
"Going down the stretch we missed a lot of free throws," Henry said. "It's a coach's nightmare missing free throws."
Henry said Hays-Lodge Pole gave his team a run for the title.
"I've got to give Hays credit tonight they played hard," Henry said.
Said senior player Jeff Henry: "We weren't very intense. They came out more intense. In the second half, we came out more intense. They wanted it more than us in the first half. We wanted to win more in the second half."
Standing Rock, who was on the title team last year, said the fans were a big help in Rocky Boy's comeback in the game with all the yelling and cheering. And after the final buzzer went off and fans exploded on the floor, Standing Rock said he and his teammates got caught up in the emotion. Half the team was crying, Standing Rock said.
"It feels pretty good. Next year it's going to be back-to-back-to-back though," Standing Rock said. "We're pretty much living in the moment right now. On our minds right now is to try to win the state title for the first time in Rocky Boy history."
Said Jeff Henry: "It's my dream come true. I always wanted to play in a district championship. We came out and played with heart. We had heart all weekend. We knew what we had to do."
Hays-Lodge Pole coach Shawn Backbone said his team was ready mentally and physically for this tournament, but inexperience may have hurt his team in the long run.
"We just had some turnovers on our behalf," he said. "All in all, we were toe to toe with them all the way to the end."
23 16 11 1767
ROCKY BOY 15 17 20 2072
Hays-Lodge Pole Russell Doney 15, Shawn Shambo 19, James Flying 13, D.J. Small 9, Nathan Martin 6, Elmer Fox 3, Trevor Boushie 2.
Rocky Boy Josh Seaton 1, Marcus Standing Rock 17, Adam Demontiney 4, Mike Morsette 17, Dustin Sunchild 24, Clayton Houle 6, Mike Seaton 3.