Star bright, Star night
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To the seniors on the Rocky Boy boys basketball team, to anyone who has been a part of the program the last three or four years, a state championship trophy must have seemed like a dream that was never going to be realized. But many times, dreams do come true, and the Stars made sure their biggest dream became a reality on Saturday night at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. After two years of coming so close to winning a Class C state title, after piling up win after win and losing just three times in three years, the Stars got to the top of the mountain on Saturday night, beating Shelby 58-49 in the Class B boys state championship game in front of almost 5,000 fans. "It's something we've been waiting for, working for for a long time," Rocky Boy senior Lyndsey Eagleman said. "We could have had a couple more of these, but now that we finally do have one, it's amazing. This for everybody, for the seniors, all of the players, the coaches and all of our fans. This means the world to everybody." And after a long and fruitful run at the Class C level, the Stars got their trophy in their first year of Class B basketball. A remarkable feat for sure. But veteran Rocky Boy head coach Tim Henry saw it another way. "I don't think the whole moving up thing was that big of a deal to anybody," Henry said. "At the end of the night, these kids, the Shelby kids who played so hard and so well tonight, we're all just basketball players playing the game we love. And for us to do this this season, it's something really special and I'm just proud of my boys, proud and happy for our whole community." Rocky Boy's first state title didn't come without some tense moments, as Shelby, coached by former Blue Pony great Tom Reynolds, played a nearly flawless game against the Stars on Saturday night. The Coyotes captured a state B title of their own two years ago, and came agonizingly close to getting another one on Saturday night. Instead, it was the Stars who came up big when they needed it the most, and in big meaning Rocky Boy senior center Eric Schildt, who took over the game in the second half. The 6-7 Schildt scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds, most of which came in the final 16 minutes. He and his teammates also were stellar from the free-throw-line down the stretch as Rocky Boy overcame a six-point deficit that had lingered most of the night. "I got on Eric a little at halftime," Henry said. "I didn't think he was giving a star effort to that point and we needed him to. But he sure stepped up in the second half. He really took over the game, and I thought his play, his presence on the floor, his free-throwshooting was the difference in us being able to come back and win this game." With the win, the Stars beat the Coyotes five times this season. Rocky Boy bested Shelby in two regular season game, at the District 1B tournament two weeks ago and in the Northern B championship game last week in Glasgow. And none of those wins came easy and neither did Saturday's night's victory. After clinging to a 13-12 lead after the first eight minutes, the Stars fell behind in the second quarter. It took a couple of late baskets for Rocky Boy to pull to within two points at halftime with the Coyotes leading 27-25. In the third quarter, Rocky Boy battled, but Shelby did too. The Coyotes got big baskets from Chase Ballantyne, but a Jerod Parker 3-pointer near the end of the quarter kept the Stars within two points at 40-38. "We were right there," Schildt said. "It was a tough game and we knew it would be. But we believed in each other. We never doubted what the coaches had us doing out there. We just kept playing and kept playing hard and it paid off." And eventually, it did pay off. The Stars locked down on defense in the fourth quarter holding the Coyotes to just nine points. And on the other side of the coin, Rocky Boy was finally able to bust loose on offense. The Stars were down six points with six minutes to play when Leisin Oats hit a jumper, Parker followed with another bucket and Schildt made four free throws in a row. Senior JC Hawk then scored a 3-point play the old fashioned way, making a scooping layup, getting fouled and converting the free throw. At that point Rocky Boy and gone from down six points to up five at 50-45 with 1:59 left on the clock. From there it was a free-throw parade and the Stars made good on their promise to make free throws count in the state tournament this season. Oats and Hawk went a combined 16-for-16 from the charity stripe, Parker was also perfect and Schildt missed only one on the night. "We've been working on free throws from day one," Schildt said. "And it paid off. "All of our hard work paid off," he added. "This is such a great feeling to get here. To win this one. It means a lot to everybody." To go along with Schildt's big night, the Stars also got 13 points from Oats and another 13 from Parker. In the loss, the Coyotes got 17 points from Ballantyne. The win pushed the Stars to a perfect 26-0 on the season, and no matter what happens with the Class AA state tournament later this week, Rocky Boy will finish as the only undefeated boys basketball team in Montana this year. Still, taking the hardware back to Rocky Boy is what matters most to Henry and his players and it had tears in everybody's eyes following the final buzzer on Saturday night. "I've waited so long and worked so hard for this," Hawk said. "All my life I've wanted to be a state champion. "This means everything to us," a tearful Henry added. "Not just to me or the other coaches, but to our players and to the entire community. We did this for all of them, and this is something the entire community can be proud of. I know I'm very proud, very proud of these boys and what they did this season." Rocky Boy reached the title game by thrashing secondranked Florence-Carlton 74-54 on Friday night. The Falcons had lost just once all season, and jumped on the Stars 11-2 in the first four minutes of the game. But Rocky Boy ripped off a 27-6 run which stretched into the third quarter, and the Stars never looked back. Oats scored a game-high 22 points in the semifinal win, while Parker added 16 and Hawk poured in 14 for the Stars. "This was the only ending we wanted," Eagleman said. "This is so special for the seniors, and we wanted to do this for coach Tim Henry. We wanted to win a state championship for him and for all our fans. I'm just so excited we were able to finish this thing the way we did."