George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
Free throws always play a big part in postseason high school basketball. And on the opening night of the District 9C boys and girls basketball tournament, the free-throw-line decided a pair of pivotal games. In the first game of the night session at the Havre High gymnasium, the fourth-seeded Rocky Boy Morning Stars out shot the fifth-seeded Chinook Sugarbeeters in the final four minutes of the game to win 53-47 and advance to the 9C girls semifinals. Chinook appeared like it was poised for an upset for most of the game. The Beeters played almost flawlessly, especially in the second quarter and an early in the fourth. After a tie game early, Chinook’s Alyssa Brown and Taryn Norby took over in the second quarter, both scoring and rebounding, and eventually, the Beeters led 29-23 at halftime. “I was really proud of the way those girls played tonight,” Chinook head coach Chris Daniels said. “We played a really good game for the most part. But Rocky Boy’s full-court-press has given us fits and it did again late in the game. We ended up with 31 turnovers and 20 of them were in the second half. That was a big difference right there.” Still, Chinook was in command for much of the second half. The Beeters stayed the course in the third quarter and had a 42-36 lead heading into the final eight minutes. And that lead grew to nine points when Rocky Boy’s Shawna Small picked up her fourth foul with around seven minutes left in the contest. However, Rocky Boy head coach Chance Houle left one of his top scorers on the floor despite the foul trouble and the decision proved to be a smart one. Trailing by eight points, Small hit a shot to start a Rocky Boy run. That shot was followed up by a Daishawn Whitford 3-pointer and the Morning Stars, who have finished third or better in the 9C tourney for the last five years were off and running. And it would be Small who would make the difference down the stretch. While Rocky Boy was forcing Chinook into turnovers on the defensive end, Small stayed aggressive on offense. Tied at 47-47 with 1:47 left, Small would go to the foul line eight times, going a perfect 8-for-8 as the Morning Stars shut out the Beeters the rest of the way to advance to today’s first semifinal against top-seeded Big Sandy. “Chinook was a team I was really scared to play coming into this tournament,” Houle said. “They have come a long way and those coaches have done an excellent job with that team, so you have to first give them a lot of credit for the way they played us tonight. “But we’ve worked hard all year on playing for 32 minutes, not quitting and playing for four quarters and I think we did that tonight,” he added. “So I’m really proud of the kids for sticking with it, for doing the things we needed to to stay in the game.” Small finished with a team-high 16 points, but the Morning Stars also got 11 points from Apryl Webster and 10 from Whitford, while Falene Russette grabbed a game-high 13 boards. Chinook was paced in the heartbreaking loss by Norby’s 17 points, while Brown had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. “Shawna (Small) is a smart player,” Houle said. “So we kept her on the floor and she was the one who stayed aggressive and kept attacking. We knew she could do that for us. This win was a team effort too, and it gives us some confidence going into the next game.” Rocky Boy (12-7) will move on to face the Pioneers (18-1) this afternoon, while Chinook (6-12)will play in a loser- out game Friday night at 6:30 p.m Chinook 43, North Star 38 (Boys) The second game of the night session Wednesday night at the HHS gymnasium also came down to free throws, but this time, it was Chinook which was on the positive end of things. The Beeters and North Star Knights played each other right down to the final seconds, but Chinook went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final :10 to upend the Knights 43-38 and move into today’ semifinal round where the Beeters will face top-seeded Rocky Boy at 2:30. The win was a historic one for the Beeters. Chinook’s last postseason victory came back in 2000 when the Beeters were still in Class B, and it was the first time Chinook has won a game in the 9C tournament. “They’ve come along way,” Chris Daniels said of his Beeters. “To get this win was a very big thing for them, and for this program, and the amazing thing is, here they are with a postseason win now, and they are still a very young team. That says a lot about how far this team has come." The win over the Knights didn’t come easy though. North Star started hot as Kellan Warren hit two 3-pointers and Skyler Melby ended the first quarter with a long three of his own to put North Star ahead 12-7. The two teams battled through the second quarter, but Connor Kline nailed a three at the end of the half to put the Knights in front, 23-19. However, Chinook’s Lane Schmitt and J.T Tilleman kept the Beeters right with the Knights in the second half, and as things got tight down the stretch, it was the Beeters who were ahead 38-34 with just under two minutes to go. But North Star didn’t go away. Zack Halter pulled the Knights to within two points before the Beeters went back up 39-36. North Star’s Jordy Donoven then got in the lane to pull the Knights to within one at 39-38 with :13 left. But Dylan MacLean calmly knocked in two foul shots to put the Beeters up three, and the Knights couldn’t convert on a game-tying three before Tilleman sealed the game at the other end. “I think our ability to finish the game comes from the fact that we have been in these situations all season long,” Daniels said. “Just last week we had to make free throws against Turner, and it seems like we’ve had to do it or try to do it all year, so the kids were prepared for the end of the game. “This was a big win for us,” he added. “I don’t think our record is indicative of how good we are, or maybe its indicative of how tough or league us. But we proved a lot to ourselves tonight.” Schmitt scored 11 points and MacLean nine to lead the Beeters, while Tilleman had a strong second half and finished the game with eight points and eight rebounds. In the nail biting loss, North Star got a game-high 14 points and eight rebounds form Melby. Warren added nine points and Halter had seven. Chinook (7-11) will face Rocky Boy (18-0) this afternoon with a berth in the 9C boys title game on the line. Meanwhile, the Knights (6-13) will try to keep their season alive in a loser-out game Friday at 8 p.m.