The competition is only going to keep getting tough the longer the Box Elder Bears and Big Sandy Pioneers boys basketball teams keep marching into the postseason.
Both 9C squads survived the District 9C boys basketball tournament in Havre over the weekend, and will now play for a top finish at the Northern C basketball tournament at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. If the Bears and Pioneers can produce solid outings Thursday through Saturday, they could earn a spot at the Class C state basketball tournament in Bozeman.
Joining the Bears and Pioneers will be Dutton-Brady, Highwood, Denton, Roy-Winifred, Great Falls Central and Simms.
Box Elder earned the top seed out of the 9C, winning two impressive games last weekend. The Bears (17-3) had to defeat the Chinook Sugarbeeters in the semifinals and then the Pioneers in the championship game. The Bears defeated the Pioneers 89-85 in triple overtime to punch their ticket to Great Falls. But now at the Northern C, the Bears will run into Simms, the No. 2 team out of the 10C Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Simms (12-8) is led by the likes of Jace Beaver, Zeb Bloom, Jake Bloom and Erik Pschering. Beaver and Zeb Bloom give the Tigers an outside presence with their three-point shooting ability, but the Bears should be a favorite in the first round contest.
Simms had an up-and-down season and is fortunate to be in the Northern C. The Tigers had a solid weekend to get to Great Falls, but earned wins in a narrow fashion, including a 54-53 win over Valier. But if the Bears play well, and play to their strengths, Simms may find it very difficult to keep up. Box Elder is led by a slew of scoring weapons. Brandon The Boy leads the way from the point guard position, and is very good at getting Clayton Morsette Jr., Randal Gardipee, Thomas Parisian and Lonnie Plain Bull involved in the action.
Big Sandy could also find itself having another successful weekend if the Pioneers (14-7) can play well. The Pioneers had to play in a 9C challenge game after losing to the Bears in the championship, but survived a tight matchup against Chinook to extend their post season run.
Now playing in Great Falls, the Pioneers will face 10C champion Dutton-Brady (19-2) at 11 a.m. Thursday.
“After two tough games in a row, the important thing is, we’re going to divisionals,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “And we really came here and earned this one. For this group of seniors, it’s the fourth straight time of making it down there, so I’m really happy for them. We’re not a deep team. And with the amount of kids we put on the floor, it’s pretty amazing that we’ve come this far. So we’re just really excited to have the chance to keep on playing.”
But Dutton-Brady won’t be an easy game for the Pioneers.
Playing five kids the majority of the game, the Pioneers rely on playing at a very high level. They can’t afford to get into foul trouble, and they rely on their conditioning to keep up with squads, or run them out of the gym. Trevor Lackner, Kaden Beck, Zac Leader, Jerry Hanson and Jessey Bailey carry the load this season and rarely take a break. If they can shoot the ball well and work the ball inside to Beck and Leader, then the Pioneers could earn a win.
Early in the season Dutton-Brady defeated the Pioneers, but coach Lackner knows they have a shot at turning the tables.
"We lost to them in preseason by one point and we didn't have Kaden (Beck) then.” Coach Lackner said. “So we like our chances playing them again. But the divisional tournament is always tough. These are four good districts that make up this division and every game is usually close. But we can play well. Getting there is the important part, and then you just have to go out and play well."
Senior guard Tiegan Johnson will be a player for the Big Sandy defense to watch, as he is averaging nearly 18 points per game this season. Senior Justin Fritz is also averaging nearly 11 points per game and nine rebounds per game.
If Big Sandy can sneak past Dutton Brady in their second meeting this season, they will have another tough game in the semifinals. With a win over Dutton-Brady, the Pioneers will run into the winner of the Highwood/Denton matchup in the semifinals.
Thursday’s other first-round games include 8C champion Highwood (17-3) taking on 7C runner-up Denton (11-9) at 12:30 p.m. and 7C winner and top-ranked Roy-Winifred (20-0) battling with 8C runner-up Great Falls Central (14-6) at 4 p.m.
The Northern C will run Thursday through Saturday at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The consolation game is set for 7 p.m Saturday night and the championship game will be played at 8:30 p.m. The top two teams advance to the state tournament in two weeks in Bozeman.