GREAT FALLS — When a team is as hot as the top- ranked Box Elder Bears, prep basketball fans don’t typically have to look too far to see a new page being written in the history books. All a local fan had to do Friday was simply watch the District 9C Bears in the Northern C divisional championship game at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
A 24-year absence from the Class C state tournament and a 24-year gap since the last time the Bears were named divisional champions was erased in 32 minutes of basketball Friday night.
The Bears have spent the majority of the season as the No. 1-ranked Class C team in the state. And while the target remains on the back of Box Elder, the Bears cruised to a 23-0 record and now advance to this week’s Class C state tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
“This feels so good, we have been saying we have unfinished business since last year,” Bears starting point guard Brandon The Boy said. “All the hard practices coach puts us through, and all the pain is worth it. We wouldn’t be here without coach (Jeremy) MacDonald, he prepared us well, and he told us this wasn’t going to be easy and he was right.”
Denton-Geyser-Stanford was the final roadblock standing in the way of the Bears, but the Bearcats were barely a speed bump during Friday night’s chipper. The Bears won their third game of the weekend, this time in a dominating 63-30 victory. The Bearcats, now 20-3, will also make the trip to state with its win over Highwood Thursday in the semifinals. Highwood defeated Belt in the consolation game Friday, eliminating any possibility for a challenge game.
Last year the Bears lost out at the Northern C, and that hurt. That was motivation for the Bears this year and it worked. Now they prepare for the state tournament for the first time since 1990.
“I feel great for these boys, I am extremely proud of them,” Box Elder head coach Jeremy MacDonald said. “This is their hard work; this is them putting in the hours in the gym, them putting in hours in the weight room and giving up summer days off. It’s coming together right now and we are peaking at the right time.
“And it was in the back of my mind,” MacDonald added. “I knew if we dropped this game tonight we would have another game tomorrow. We could have looked at it like we had another shot, but I didn’t want to play Saturday. I wanted to get this win and leave this tournament as champions.”
It has become a good habit for the Bears to be able to run away with a game in the second half. And for the second consecutive outing, the Bears proved they could dominate a team that would hang around early in the first half.
Both the Bears and Bearcats went point-for-point in the opening minutes of the first quarter. The contest was tied at 2-2, 5-5 and finally 7-7, but as the clock ticked down near the 3:35 mark, the Bears’ full-court pressure was on.
The result was a 7-3 Bear run to close the frame, a run that was capped off by a Lonnie Plain Bull Jr. 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 14-10.
But the Box Elder run was just beginning, even with the Bearcats failed attempt to slow the pace down to start the second quarter. Box Elder outscored DGS 17-4 in the second, led by another great stretch of plays by Plain Bull Jr. who finished the game with 15 points. He hit back-to-back treys to stretch the lead to 25-14 with just over two minutes left.
Plain Bull Jr. then found a wide open Thomas Parisian under the basket, grabbing an assist that put the lead at 27-14. The production was contagious as Randall Gardipee went coast-to-coast and converted a layup that would more than double up the Bearcats at 29-14 with just over a minute left in the opening half. Clayton Morsette Jr. also hit two free throws at the end of the frame as the Bears jogged off the floor with an intermission lead of 31-14.
“We just have to keep our composure when we are down,” The Boy Said. “We can’t get mad that a team is hanging with us. They (DGS) were a good team too, but we just have to keep our press on and keep playing our game, Box Elder Bears basketball. We see teams get tired as the game goes on, but I feel like I could play two more games right now.”
The dominating second quarter sealed the deal for the Bears with two frames left play. But as they outscored the Bearcats 32-16 in the second half, it was clear that the Box Elder defense has yet to run into a program they couldn’t pester. The Bears were in and out of their full court pressure and caused 19 turnovers through 32 minutes of play.
“Tonight the press didn’t create a lot of turnovers, but the half-court defense was phenomenal,” MacDonald said. “I don’t know if we’ve played 32 minutes of half-court defense like we did tonight. It is amazing to watch them play defense like that. They were in the passing lanes, making the other team work hard, and making them take tough shots while we boxed out. If we continue to do that, we have a chance to finish the season on a three-game winning streak once we hit Butte.”
DGS was held to just one double-digit score, as Ty Martin finished with 10 points. But the Box Elder offense saw 10 kids get in on the scoring action, three of whom finished with double figures. Gardipee led all scorers with his 16, followed by Plain Bull Jr.’s 15. Plain Bull Jr. hit three treys, as the Bears were 7-of-14. Jerrod Four Colors also came off the bench and scored 10 for a Bears’ team that shot 42 percent from the field compared to the Bearcats’ 20 percent.
“You have to know who you are going into the game for all the time,” Four Colors said. “You have to make sure you know the plays, and you have to work hard every day in practice. It is important to come into the game and be able to keep the tempo going. But we scouted this team a lot, so we were all able to just expose the weaknesses and openings in their zone. We made them switch to man, so our game plan worked out well.”
Thomas Parisian scored six for the Bears, The Boy and Will Ketchum finished with five, and Morsette Jr., Jake Jones, Ryan Gardipee and Quinn Baker all finished with two points each.
Box Elder will now play in the Class C state tournament at the Butte Civic Center Thursday-Saturday in Butte. The Bears will face the No. 2 team out of the West Thursday at 2 p.m.
Box Elder's Lonnie Plain Bull Jr., celebrates the Bears' Northern C championship game win Friday night in Great Falls.
Box Elder 63, D-G-S 30 (1st)
DGS 10 4 6 10 - 30
BE 14 17 19 13 - 63
Denton-Geyser-Stanford - Bart Vaskey 5, Connor Bokma 4, Chase Hill 2, Kade Woodhall 1, Ty Martin 10, Jack Holzer 2, Jessy Annala 1, Kendall Carpenter 5. Totals: 10 8-12.
Box Elder - Brandon The Boy 5, Clayton Morsette Jr. 2, William Ketchum 5, Randall Gardipee 16, Jake Jones 2, Ryan Gardipee 2, Jerrod Four Colors 10, Quinn Baker 2, Thomas Parisian 6, Lonnie Plain Bull Jr. 13. Totals: 22 12-15.
Total fouls: DGS 14, BE 13. 3-pointers - Vaskey, Martin, The Boy, Ra. Gardipee, Four Colors 2, Plain Bull Jr. 3.