After all the Big Sandy Pioneers have gone through this postseason, there is something fitting and almost fulfilling about the 9C Pioneers making it to the 2013 Class C state basketball tournament.
It is safe to say that this isn’t the Pioneers most dominating team in the last decade. But they know how to survive when their backs are up against the wall, and they are seemingly impossible to get rid of.
The latest win came on Monday night at Great Falls Central High School in Great Falls. The Pioneers earned a spot in the Northern C challenge game, taking on the Highwood Mountaineers. The Pioneers defeated the Dutton-Brady Diamondbacks on Saturday night in the consolation game to get to the challenge game, while the Mountaineers fell to Roy-Winifred in the Northern C chipper on Saturday. The Mountaineers were heavily favored, but the Pioneers pulled off the 49-47 win to keep their season alive.
“They found a way to win all year,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “In football and here. They found a way to win, we are not the most talented team.
“I don’t even know who else is going to state,” Lackner added. “I am just glad I am getting there. I was worried about getting out of districts.”
And this wasn’t the first time the Pioneers (16-8) had to bounce back to keep their season alive.
At the 9C tournament in Havre last week, the Pioneers rolled through the competition, finding a place in the 9C chipper. But running into the powerful Bears, the Pioneers finished in second place. The Bears defeated the Pioneers 89-85 in three overtimes. And once in the Northern C, the Pioneers lost a heartbreaking first round game to the Diamondbacks on Thursday morning. The Pioneers had to regroup, and they did so nicely, as they then pulled off wins over Denton and 9C rival Box Elder to get into the consolation matchup. The Diamondbacks weren’t able to upset the Pioneers twice, and now Big Sandy finds itself as one of the top teams in the state yet again.
Kaden Beck and Zac Leader both played major roles in Monday’s challenge game win.
The Pioneers found the lead being traded back and forth over and over with the Mountaineers. The lead was exchanged 11 times through the four quarters, but that didn’t matter as long as the Pioneers held on in the end. The final lead change took place with about five minutes remaining in regulation. Beck missed two free throws, but wasn’t accounted for on the rebound, following his second miss and scoring on the put back. Becks’ field goal gave the Pioneers the 42-41 lead, and they never let go, as Leader followed with another two-point field goal at the 4:16 mark to give the Pioneers the 44-41 lead.
In the remaining four minutes of action, Big Sandy was outscored 6-5. Leader and Beck both scored another field goal each to combine for four of the final five points, but with the Mountaineers being out of timeouts, the Pioneers ran the final seconds off the clock after a late field goal brought the score to 49-47, as Highwood’s Sam Davison scored the final two points in a last ditch effort.
“These kids have all done a heck of a job,” Lackner said. “I can’t say more for them. A lot of people counted us out a long time ago and we are going (to state) again.
“They (Highwood) have a lot of good players on that team,” Lackner added. “Look at who they’ve got out there. You know they are going to come back. They are not going to hand it to you, not that group of kids. Their basketball I.Q. is unbelievable. I have a few more football players than they do, we did a good job and came out on the good end, but it could have went either way.”
Beck finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Leader led the Pioneers with 16 points. Jerry Hanson also scored nine, while Trevor Lackner scored five, and Jessey Bailey scored five as well.
Both teams went on several runs to battle back and forth. Highwood ended the first quarter with a 7-4 run to take a 15-13 lead through the first eight minutes. But the Pioneer went on a 9-2 run late in the second quarter to take a 24-19 lead into the break. Highwood outscored the Pioneers 18-14 in the third quarter, but the Pioneers outscored the Mountaineers 11-10 in the fourth to lock down the win and a trip to state.
The State C boys basketball tournament runs March 7-9 in Bozeman. Big Sandy will face the No. 1 team out of the south at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 7.
Big Sandy 49, Highwood 47 (2nd)
Big Sandy 13 11 14 11 – 49
Highwood 15 4 18 10 – 47
Big Sandy – Zac Leader 16, Kaden Beck 14, Jerry Hanson 9, Trevor Lackner 5, Jessey Bailey 5.
Highwood – Sam Davison 14, Jon Baum 14, Jake Malek 4, Jordan LaFrontaine 5, D. Malek 5.