George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
In challenge games, the season always comes to an abrupt end for one team, while another gets to extend its year for at least another week. On Monday night at the Havre High gymnasium, a magical run came to an end for the Chinook boys basketball team, while the Big Sandy Pioneers are still playing basketball. The Pioneers beat the Sugarbeeters 64-43 in a District 9C boys challenge game on Monday night to claim second place in the 9C and the second spot in Thursday’s Northern C Divisional in Great Falls. And for Chinook (9-12), it was the end to what has been a remarkable turnaround. Just one year ago, the Beeters were 2-18 and on Monday night, the Beeters came within striking distance of reaching the divisional tournament. “This was huge for our program,” Chinook head coach Chris Daniels said. “We were 2-18 a year ago, and here we found ourselves in a challenge game in this tournament, in a district that is so tough, with a chance to get to the next level. The kids have come a long way, and as a young team, they accomplished a great deal this season. I couldn’t ask for more.” For much of the first half of Monday night’s game, the Beeters looked like they were going to accomplish a lot more. Behind 3-pointers from Taylor Erskine and Lane Schmitt, the Beeters roared out to a 13-4 lead early, and they found themselves ahead of the heavily favored Pioneers 16-14 at the end of the first quarter. And Chinook continued to play well into the second stanza before Big Sandy’s Corbin Pearson hit a three which gave the Pioneers the lead. Big Sandy increased that lead to seven points just before half, but the Beeters got two more big shots from Erskine and Schmitt to narrow the gap to 27-25 at halftime. “I don’t think we could have gotten off to a better start,” Daniels said. “We knew we didn’t match up very well with Big Sandy so we were well aware of the fact that we were going to have to shoot it well from the outside. We were going to have to do that in order to stay with them, and for a half, we did a good job of executing our inside-out game and taking some air out of the ball. “But in the second half, the shots didn’t fall, and Big Sandy really took advantage on the inside,” he added. “They (Pioneers) started to get second and third chances and they really did a great job rebounding. Those were big keys to the second half, and those are things they do so well.” And the second half truly belonged to the Pioneers, who were finally able to recover from an emotional loss to Rocky Boy in Saturday night’s championship game. The Pioneers went to work on the inside, Pearson took the ball to the basket and they started to win the rebounding edge. Still, even with a Pearson 3-pointer to end the third quarter, they weren’t able to pull away just yet as they led just 37-33. But with the game very much in doubt, Big Sandy did assert its dominance in the final eight minutes, outscoring Chinook 27-10 to run away with the game. Pearson scored to put the Pioneers up 41-35 with 6:05 left and that ignited a 12-0 run by the Pioneers which essentially dashed any hopes of Chinook moving on. “Not to take anything away from Chinook because they are a very good team and they shoot the ball so well,” Big Sandy head coach Sonny Broesder said. “But we definitely had some trouble bouncing back from the loss to Rocky Boy. That was a tough loss for us and I think we just came out flat in the first half. “But in the second half I think we got things going,” he added. “We started to hit the boards hard, get some second- chance shots, we took much better care of the basketball and we executed our offense much better. It was just a much better all-around second half for us, and fortunately we were able to play better and get the win so that we can move on.” Pearson had a huge game for the Pioneers, scoring a game-high 28 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. He also hit three trey's for the Pioneers. Kruz McDermott also picked up the scoring, especially in the second half as he finished with 15 points, while Blake Brumwell had yet another double- double, scoring 10 points and grabbing a game-high 16 boards. The Beeters, who went somewhat cold from the outside in the second half, got 13 points, including three three’s from Dylan MacLean, while Schmitt scored 12 and Erskine added 10. A big difference besides the secondhalf shooting slump turned out to be rebounding, as the Pioneers beat the Beeters on the boards 36-22. “We went into a shooting slump in the second half and that’s something against a team like Big Sandy we couldn’t afford to have happen,” Daniels said. “But give them credit too. They really played tough in the second half, and really took it to us." “But these kids should be proud of what they’ve achieved this season,” he added. “It’s been a long time since a boys basketball team has put a trophy in our trophy case, and we have come along way since last season." With the challenge game win in tow, the Pioneers (16-6) will move on to Thursday’s opening round of the Northern C tournament in Great Falls. Big Sandy will face District 8C champion Augusta in the first round Thursday at 5:30 p.m. inside the Four Season’s Arena where the Pioneers have finished second and third the last two years. “We’re going to go down there hoping to play well,” Broesder said. “The thing about the 9C is it is as tough a league and as tough a tournament as you’ll find in Class C, so we feel prepared to play Augusta on Thursday and prepared for whatever we will face down there. Hopefully we can play well, and we're hoping for a rematch with Rocky Boy."