George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
Just when it looked like the Box Elder Bears' dream of reaching the Northern C Divisional tournament for the first time in five years was going to collapse, senior Rokki Parker came to the rescue. Box Elder, which led Rocky Boy the entire way in Monday night's District 9C girls challenge game at the Havre High gymnasium, had to get several offensive rebounds and putbacks by Parker, as well as some stellar defense in order to hold off the Rocky Boy Morning Stars 51-43 and advance to the Northern C tournament later this week in Great Falls. Parker, who played in foul trouble all night, still scored 14 points and grabbed 15 rebounds on Monday night to lead the Bears to victory. In four years as a starter at Box Elder, the 5-11 senior had never even played in a game that had divisional tournament implications before, but she made the most of that opportunity on Monday night. "It's amazing, especially to be going to divisionals with my sister on the team," Parker said. "I'm just so proud right now. It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice by every one on this team to get here. I just feel really blessed." And the Bears were blessed to have Parker on the court on Monday night, because despite thoroughly outplaying Rocky Boy for three quarters, it looked like the Morning Stars were on the verge of coming back to win, until Parker took over in the paint. After a shaky first quarter by both teams, Box Elder went on a run in the second quarter, spurred by three straight scores by Jamie Montes. The push gave the Bears a comfortable 22-15 halftime lead. Then, at the start of the third quarter, Box Elder reeled off a 12-2 run, capped off by a Parker putback, which gave Box Elder a 34-17 lead with 2:12 left in the quarter. But Rocky Boy, which had been bitten by the turnover bug starting with its championship loss to Big Sandy on Saturday night, started to storm back. Senior Frances Eagleman made a layup and a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, and by the 4:21 mark of the period, the Morning Stars had ripped off an 18-4 run and trailed just 39-36. Minutes later, Eagleman hit another 3-pointer to make the score 43-41 with 1:41 left in the game, and the Bears were backed into a corner. "I think we wanted it just a little bit more than Rocky Boy did tonight," Box Elder head coach Shiloh Schwab said. "I just felt like even when they (Morning Stars) went on that big run, our kids never gave up. They were really poised and under control, and they took care of the basketball. "And in the last two minutes, Rokki did what we needed her to do. She got some big offensive rebounds that we turned into points and she made some really crucial plays," she added. "And Arielle (Wolfchief) and Jamie (Montes) made some big free throws. I just thought we were really poised in the last two minutes and that won the game for us." Indeed, leading by two points, Parker, Wolfchief and Montes took over. Parker scored on an offensive rebound to push the lead back to four points. Then Montes scored on a Parker steal, and then came up with a steal of her own which got her to the free-throw-line. After she made 1-of-2 foul shots, Box Elder got another putback by Wolfchief to make the score 50-41, sealing Rocky Boy's fate in the process. "We pulled through at the end," Parker said. "Rocky Boy played really good in the fourth quarter, but we stayed strong and played with heart at the end. I'm really proud of this team right now." Aside from Parker's big night, the Bears got a game-high 16 points from Montes and 12 from Wolfchief. Meanwhile, Rocky Boy got 10 points from Eagleman in what was the last game of her brilliant career. Fellow senior Erin Broncho also scored eight points in her final game, and Jasmine Dumas added eight points in a losing effort. Box Elder (16-6) will now advance to play Winifred in the opening round of the Northern C tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m. Top-ranked Big Sandy (20-0) will play Heart Butte at 7:30 p.m. But for at least one night, Schwab isn't looking too far ahead. "I just want to let the kids enjoy this right now," she said. "It's been a long time since we have been in this position and it's a great accomplishment for this team. "But tomorrow at practice, we'll start getting prepared to play Winifred," she added. "We're just really excited right now and I'm really proud of what this team has done this season." The 2008 Northern C Divisional girl's tournament begins on Thursday at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The first round of the boy's tournament begins on Wednesday at 1 p.m.