By Kim Staudinger
Just a few short years ago, Blue Sky head coach Darrin Hannum played basketball for Big Sandy coach Roy Lackner.
Now, the two coach against each other, creating a rivalry between the Eagles and the Pioneers.
That rivalry continued to grow Saturday night as the two teams battled it out for third place in the District 9C Boys Basketball Tournament with a possibility for a challenge game tonight.
After all was said and done, it was the former player who got the win over his high school coach, 79-61.
After the win, the fate of the Eagles' season fell into the hands of two other teams Rocky Boy and Hays-Lodge Pole. If Rocky Boy won the championship game, Blue Sky would have the right to challenge Hays-Lodge Pole tonight for a trip to the divisional tournament. If Hays-Lodge Pole won the championship game, the season would be over for the Eagles.
As fate would have it, the Thunderbirds could not survive a late rally from the Northern Stars and Blue Sky got its challenge game.
For a while it seemed as though the consolation finals game would be controlled by fours. No. 4 for Blue Sky, Brent Petrick, and No. 4 for Big Sandy, Mason Ophus, each finished with a game-high 22 points.
Petrick set the tone of the game early for Blue Sky, making the first basket of the game, a three-pointer near the top of the key. While the game was tied at three different points, once with five minutes remaining in the first quarter and two times in the second, Petrick and teammate Mitch McKinley (20 points) answered every run.
A six-point Eagles lead after the first quarter was cut to four at the half, but from there only got wider. The closest the Pioneers came in the third quarter was seven points at the 5:18 mark. Petrick hit three of his four three-pointers on the game in the quarter as Blue Sky pulled away, outscoring Big Sandy 26-14. Petrick also made three of five free throws for a total of 12 points in the third, with McKinley following close behind with seven.
"Big Sandy worked hard," Coach Hannum said. "But they looked a little tired. I thought we were tired, too. We had a lot of guys step up for us."
McKinley added eight points in the fourth and Petrick five as Blue Sky answered every basket the Pioneers made. The Eagles also made a scoring run of their own, spanning three minutes late in the quarter. During the run, Blue Sky scored 10 points and increased its lead to 20.
Of the seven Big Sandy players who saw playing time, four scored all in double figures. Sophomore Mason Ophus led the way with 22 points, including a perfect eight for eight from the free-throw line. Classmates Jay Jamieson (16) and Gage Brumwell (12) followed, with junior Calenn Heppner (11) rounding out the scoring for the Pioneers.
"Mason Ophus did really well for me," Big Sandy coach Roy Lackner said. "I can't ask for a lot more from them. Our biggest problem is staying focused for four quarters. We still make a lot of mental errors. They have to realize they've got a long ways to go. It's a matter of, we must learn how to play 32 minutes. We play about 16 right now."
But the future looks bright for the Pioneers, with no seniors on this year's team and just three juniors.
For Blue Sky, Petrick led with 22 points, followed by McKinley with 20, Mike Hutchinson (15) and Jon Lipp (10).
Hannum said his team, which has been battling the flu all tournament, is "getting back to where we need to be."
The Eagles face Hays-Lodge Pole tonight at 7 for a challenge game to go to the divisional tournament.
Big Sandy Jay Jamieson 16, Gage Brumwell 12, Mason Ophus 22, Calenn Heppner 11.
Blue Sky Jon Lipp 10, Brent Petrick 22, Mike Hutchinson 15, Eric Groth 2, Keenan Toner 9, Mitch McKinley 20, Kevin Jurenka 1.