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Knight's Night

With a thiller over HLP, North Star boys reach 9C championship game, and the Northern C


February 16, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

North Star's Thomas Nerat, right, goes up high for a shot during Thursday's District 9C boys semifinal against Hays-Lodge Pole inside the HHS gymnasium. With a win over the Thunderbirds, North Star ended not only a lengthy 9C title game drought, but also a 12-year absence from the Northern C tournament.

For years, more than a decade in fact, the North Star Knights have had to look at an old Northern C Divisional banner from back in the 2006-07 season, the last time the Knights advanced past the district tournament.

But after beating Hays-Lodge Pole 53-47 in the District 9C semifinals Thursday inside the HHS gymnasium, the banner will finally be getting an update, as the Knights punched their ticket to the Northern C Divisional next week.

"That is a huge weight off our shoulders," North Star head coach Walynn Burgess said. "We talked about it before the game, how we had 32 minutes to change the banner. We have been talking about it for four years. Hays-Lodge Pole played their butts off. Chance Main going down, I mean Chance is an All-Conference kid for a reason. It was tough to see him go down. But they didn't stop playing. Our guys just kept fighting, they have the belief that if they keep working they are going to find a way to get it, somehow, someway. For them to do that as a team is just unbelievable."

However, with 2:25 left in the game, the ticket to Great Falls and the Northern C, seemed to be slipping away. Main, the Thunderbirds top player suffered a knee injury in the third quarter, but he came back just in time to throw a cross-court pass that set up a Jeffrey Stiffarm layup that put HLP in front 44-43. With 2:25 left, Michael Ball hit a 3-pointer in the corner and suddenly the Knights trailed by four points with just over two minutes remaining.

Yet Burgess didn't take a timeout. He trusted his guys and that trust eventually paid off.

"We have done that a few times this year," Burgess said. "On a couple of our game-winning shots, we didn't call timeout either. Sometimes, it's best to just let them communicate with each other and figure it out."

After a North Star free throw, Devon Miller scored inside, trimming the T-Bird advantage to one, 47-46. Then, with just over a minute left, on a called play, Caden Retting found a cutting Dylan Miller, who scored and drew a foul. He completed the 3-point play and put the Knights back in front 49-47, with 1:06 left in the game.

"We ran that play earlier," Dylan Miller said. "And we missed the pass, so I kind of knew where Caden was going to put it. I knew I just had to go get it and finish it. It took the pressure off for sure. It's really nice to know you just have to go play defense."

And play defense the Knights did. The T-Birds got some shots up in the final minute, but they didn't score again. North Star closed the game on a 10-0 run, and two free throws with 20 seconds left by Dylan Miller effectively iced the win and a trip to the 9C championship game against Chinook tonight.

"There is something a little special about that kid," Burgess said about Miller. "When big-time happens, he is going to step up and do it."

As the final seconds ticked off and the Knights finally realized their long-time goal, the stands, as well as the sideline, erupted.

"It was just pandemonium, that's the best way I can describe it," Devon Miller said when the clock stuck zero. "We have been looking forward to it forever. We were in kindergarten the last time our school made it to divisionals. Being the first All-North Star class to make it to divisionals means a lot to us. We get to change that banner in our home gym."

Early on, the game was back and forth. Dane Miller knocked down a trey early to make it 6-4 Knights, but by the end of the first quarter, HLP led 13-11. In the second stanza, the T-Birds got two 3-pointers from Damien Bradley. Another from Ball tied the game with 3:04 left in the second. But five straight points from Dylan Miller, plus another three from Dane Miller made it 33-25, before a 5-0 run by HLP trimmed the Knights' lead to 33-30 at the break.

The two teams exchanged bombs in the third quarter as Rettig hit twice from deep in the stanza, while the T-Birds got one from Bradley. But after two buckets from Devon Miller late in the quarter, North Star took a 43-39 edge into the fourth quarter. HLP opened the fourth on an 8-0 run, but the Knights finished it on a 10-0 run that proved to be the difference.

Dylan Miller scored 17 points in the win for North Star, while also contributing with three assists. Devon Miller pitched in with 14 points and six rebounds. David Main had 14 points and nine rebounds to pace HLP. Bradley also wound up with nine, thanks to three makes from beyond the arc. North Star (17-3) will play Chinook tonight in the 9C championship at 8:30. HLP (12-9) will play Turner this afternoon in loser-out action.

"There is a reason Chinook hasn't lost a game in the district," Burgess said. "But we will find a way, somehow, someway."

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

HLP's Chance Main shoots during Thursday night's 9C semifinal game in Great Falls.

North Star 53, Hays-Lodge Pole 47

North Star 11 22 10 10 - 53

HLP 13 17 9 8 - 47

North Star - Dylan Miller 17, Dane Miller 6, Caden Rettig 6, Payne Ditmar 7, Devon Miller 14, Thomas Nerat 3. Totals: 18-39 10-16 53.

HLP - Moke Cliff 1, Michael Ball 6, Damien Bradley 9, Kenneth Blackcrow 3, Isiah Runs Above 2, Jeffrey Stiffarm 10, Davind Main 14, Chance Main 2. Totals: 19-49 4-10 47.

3-pointers - D. Bradley 3, M. Ball 2, Dane Miller 2, C. Rettig 2, Payne Ditmar 2, Dylan Miller 1. Total fouls: HLP 18, North Star 7. Fouled out -- none.


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