By Harvey Brock
The Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds ran past the defending state champion Heart Butte Warriors Saturday night 86-73. The victory gave Hays-Lodge Pole the Northern C crown and a berth at state next week in Butte. The five starting Hays-Lodge Pole seniors, who have played together since fifth grade, combined to score 82 of the Thunderbirds' 86 points.
Hays-Lodge Pole opened the game with its familiar full-court pressure. Shawn Shambo scored nine first-quarter points from the outside as the Thunderbirds raced to a 10-point lead 25-15.
Hays-Lodge Pole guards James Flying and Nathan Martin pushed the ball at every opportunity against the bigger Heart Butte Warriors.
Thunderbird forward Russell Doney brought the crowd to its feet on a breakaway dunk and a lob dunk.
Shambo continued his hot outside shooting as Hays-Lodge Pole extended its lead to 46-33 at the half.
Despite three starters playing with three personal fouls apiece, Hays-Lodge Pole outscored Heart Butte 7-2 to start the second half. Heart Butte coach Grinnell Day Chief called timeout with his team trailing 53-35.
Heart Butte senior forward Narsis Reevis scored 12 second-half points as the Warriors attempted to chip away at the Thunderbird lead. Heart Butte held Shambo to only one second-half point, but Hays-Lodge Pole seniors Flying, Doney and Martin stepped in to provide the scoring in the final half. Flying led all scorers with 24 points before fouling out with three minutes to play.
The Thunderbirds built their lead to 26 in the fourth period before spreading the floor with a four-corners offense. Both teams emptied their benches with two minutes to play and the Hays-Lodge Pole fans started chanting "On to state."
Hot shooting Thunderbird Shambo said the game was all about team. "We just press and run. We mix up our presses and push the ball whenever we can. Everybody does their part. I was scoring in the first half, and James (Flying) and Russell (Doney) did the scoring in the second half. We have been playing together for eight years."
Teammate Martin echoed his remarks. "We ran them the whole game. That's what our game is all about. We have been playing together since the fifth grade. We lost one of our players, Marvin Dale Doney, and we dedicated all the games at the start of the tournaments to Marvin. We know he is with us in spirit." Marvin Doney committed suicide four years ago.
Coaching at the varsity level for the first time, Hays-Lodge Pole coach Shawn Backbone talked about his extended team. "All year long our players played hard. This is the first time in eight years Hays-Lodge Pole has made it to state. I'm proud of the team, and just want to say thanks to everybody on the Fort Belknap Reservation that has supported us."
Hays-Lodge Pole advances to the state tournament beginning Thursday in Butte.