by George Ferguson
Havre Daily News Sports
GREAT FALLS - The Rocky Boy boys basketball team's storybook season did not have a happy ending at the Class C state boys basketball tournament at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls this weekend.
After the Stars opened the tournament on Thursday with a thrilling overtime win over Roberts, they dropped consecutive games to bow out of the tournament Saturday morning. On Friday night Rocky Boy was beaten by eventual runner-up Whitewater, 69-51, and then the Stars could not rebound Saturday morning as they were overwhelmed by Plenty Coups 101-64.
Even though the Stars did not play their best basketball this past weekend, Rocky Boy head coach Andy Smith said Saturday morning that it will still be a season to remember for him, his players and the community.
"The kids are disappointed right now," Smith said. "But one day this will all sink in and they will appreciate what they have accomplished this year. They have won a district and divisional championship and they took this season right to the end. From where these kids came from to where they are now is a tremendous accomplishment and it was a great experience."
Rocky Boy came into the state tournament with high hopes and perhaps even higher expectations. And on Friday night the Stars were looking for a coveted spot in the state title game when they squared off against the undefeated Whitewater Penguins.
But from the start of the game, the Stars were a little off and the athletic Penguins took control via a 13-4 run to close the first quarter and lead 20-8. Whitewater's hot start was sparked by the outside shooting of guard Shade Stiles and the inside play of 6-6 Dakota Taylor.
Despite the run, Whitewater found itself in serious foul trouble by the end of the first quarter as three starters already had three fouls, including Taylor. That enabled the Stars to claw their way back into the game in the second period.
At one point, the Stars ripped off nine unanswered points, coming mostly by way of senior James Burns. He scored six points during that stretch as Rocky Boy shaved the Whitewater lead in half, 33-27, by halftime. Even though the Stars were down only six points, Smith said they didn't do a good job of taking advantage of Whitewater's foul situation.
"I thought that really hurt us," Smith said. "We had a chance to have our starters out there against their bench in the second quarter and we didn't outplay them, and I thought we should have."
Stiles opened the second half with two straight baskets to give the Penguins a double-digit lead. When Charles Walking Child responded with a pair of putbacks to cut the lead down to eight points, 39-31 with 5:48 remaining in the third quarter, it would be the last time that the Stars got within 10 points of the Penguin lead.
Whitewater went on a 12-0 run midway through the period and finished the quarter on a 12-4 burst to take a 59-42 lead heading into the final stanza. Despite a tremendous effort by Walking Child, the Stars never got any closer in the final eight minutes as their dream of winning Rocky Boy's first state championship in boys basketball came to an end.
"It's disappointing right now because we just didn't play well tonight," Smith said after the loss. "Our press didn't work very well and we had to press more in the second half to try to come back. Offensively, I thought we just weren't as sharp as we have been, and they shot the ball really well."
Walking Child had a monster game for the Stars, scoring 20 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in the losing effort. Burns added 15 points. Stiles paced a balanced Whitewater attack with 19 points, and Kelvin Reichelt chipped in with 14 points.
The loss to Whitewater moved Rocky Boy into Saturday morning loser-out action, where they squared off against previously unbeaten Plenty Coups. The Warriors were upset in double overtime by Geyser on Thursday, but rebounded nicely to meet Rocky Boy for a spot in the consolation game.
Despite the disappointment of losing to Whitewater, the Stars looked sharp in the early going, easily breaking the famed Plenty Coups full-court press, and racing out to an 11-4 lead on an A.J. The Boy 3-pointer. From there, however, the Stars would only score three points over the next seven minutes, and Plenty Coups outscored Rocky Boy 22-3 to close the first quarter leading 26-14.
That run carried over into the second period until Burns stopped the bleeding with a 15-foot jumper. As they did the night before, the Stars responded in the second quarter with a 12-0 run to get to within 11 points at 47-36 as the teams broke for intermission.
But just as the Stars appeared to be back in the contest, halftime ended and Plenty Coups quickly put Rocky Boy's hopes of earning a trophy away. Kevin Monroy and Wes Spotted Bear took control of the game in the third quarter and the Stars had no answer for the Warriors' breakneck pace. By the time Spotted Bear threw down a monstrous alley-oop dunk, the Warriors were ahead 60-39 and they never looked back as they reached the century mark and ended the Stars' season.
After the game, Smith said his team's play on the defensive end hurt them in the long run, but he also credited Plenty Coups for playing inspired basketball.
"We just didn't play defensively like we normally do," Smith said. "We didn't get our press going and the kids just didn't work as hard on defense as we have most of the season."
"But Plenty Coups is a very good team and they really handed it to us today. They played great basketball and it seemed like everything they threw up went in."
In their final game as Stars, Burns and Walking Child again led the way. Burns scored a team-high 16 points and Walking Child added another double-double, scoring 15 points and 11 rebounds. The Warriors had six players reach double figures, led by Spotted Bear with 24 points. Monroy added 19 points.
The loss ended Rocky Boy's season with a 23-3 overall record. Although they came up short of accomplishing their ultimate dream, Smith said he is proud of what his team accomplished.
"Unfortunately, we just didn't play that well really since the semifinal game of the divisional tournament," Smith said. "But this has been a great season. These kids have worked extremely hard, and the community has been so supportive of us the whole year. I think this has been a great year for these kids and for our school, and it has been a lot of fun."
Plenty Coups went on to finish fourth, losing to cinderella Geyser in the consolation game on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Gardiner completed a perfect season with a win over Whitewater in the championship game.