The 2010 season marked the last time the District 9C Big Sandy Pioneers won the state Class C boys basketball title. And after going 0-2 at the big show last year, the Pioneers would love nothing more than to return to the state championship game this weekend.
The Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, on the campus of MSU-Bozeman will house the state tournament today, Friday, and Saturday. Making the tournament alongside the Pioneers (16-10) this season will be Roy-Winifred (23-0), Wibaux, Fairview (23-0), Arlee (21-5), Victor (20-4), Westby-Grenora and Melstone (23-1).
Big Sandy will open tournament play tonight at 5 when the Pioneers face Melstone, the No. 1 team out of the South. A win tonight would put the Pioneers in the 8 p.m. semifinal game on Friday, facing the winner of the Victor/Westby-Grenora game for a spot in the chipper. Roy-Winifred and Wibaux also faced off in first round action this morning, while Fairview took on Arlee at noon. Victor and Westby/Grenora tipoff at 3:30 .
Last season it was Fairview who took home the state title, defeating Highwood 51-33. But this time around, the Pioneers are hoping they can continue to find a way to win, and land a spot deep in the tournament.
“We are going down there with the idea that we can win,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “That’s it. If we don’t, we will put out the best effort that we can and when we walk off the floor we will look back and say that we did our best, and that is all that we can do. You won’t see us feeling sorry, you will only see us working hard, that is it. But I think that if we can beat Melstone we have a good shot at playing on Saturday night. But everybody here had to beat somebody talented to earn their spot. And we earned our spot, and we will do our best and try to represent the Northern C as best as we can.”
The Broncs have played well this season, led mostly by three very talented scorers. And behind several big games in the postseason already, the Broncs were able to defend their Southern C title.
Mark Papp has averaged over 20 points per game this season for Melstone, and has put up big numbers like his 32 points against St. Labre in a divisional semifinal win. Brayden Wacker is another big-time scorer, as is Kyle Wilson, making the Broncs a very tough team to slow down.
But coming out of the 9C, and then the Northern C, the Pioneers feel they are ready to face a well-rounded team that isn’t afraid to put up points.
“We had to play Box Elder a few times and they have really good scorers too,” Lackner said. “And we eliminated three first-place teams at divisionals, so that gives me a lot of confidence in my team and shows that we can play against Melstone. The teams in the North are not slouch teams, and we eliminated three of them to get here, so what I am thinking is they can’t be much better than the teams out of the Northern C.”
Big Sandy has its share of scorers too. But it is going to take a great game, offensively and defensively by the Pioneers to keep their postseason alive. Last year, in their 0-2 showing, the Pioneers scored a total of 129 points, while the opposition put up a combined 170. The Pioneers typically get caught up in high-scoring affairs with their run and gun, up-tempo style, but they need their offense to be firing on all cylinders, as every team at the state tournament can put up points.
The Pioneers are at their best when they get their inside-out scoring to set the tone. If Zac Leader and Kaden Beck can get involved early on in the paint, then the Big Sandy attack can come from anywhere. Trevor Lackner, Jessey Bailey, and Jerry Hanson round out the starting five, and all three of them have proven they can be dangerous from behind the three-point arc. Trevor Lackner and Hanson can also penetrate the defense and get to hoop.
“That makes us tough to beat because the defense then gets spread out more than they want,” Coach Lackner said. “Then we can go right back inside. I like an inside game, but if we shoot well from the outside too, we are tough to beat.”
Tonight at 5,. the Pioneers will take on Melstone at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman.