As the Big Sandy boys basketball team continues to roll on through the postseason, the 9C Pioneers came a step closer to the Class C state championship.
Thursday night at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the campus of MSU-Bozeman, the Pioneers faced off against the Melstone Broncs, the No. 1 team out of the Southern C in the opening round of the 2013 Class C state tournament. And after a back-and-forth contest for the first three quarters, it was the Pioneers who advanced to tonight’s semifinals.
The Pioneers, now 17-10, defeated the favored Broncs (23-2) 64-53. With the win the Pioneers will advance to tonight’s semifinal matchup, facing Westby-Grenora at 8.
After three quarters were in the books, the game could have gone in favor of either team.
A full 24 minutes had ticked off the clock and Big Sandy held just a 44-43 lead, a narrow lead in a game that had already seen 15 lead changes and three ties between two teams that seemed to always have an answer for one another. But the tide changed in favor of the Pioneers at the very beginning of the fourth, as the Broncs’ Mark Papp (averaged 20 points per game during the regular season) fouled out with 7:45 still to play. Papp exited the game with 15 points, including a hot third quarter where he scored seven for Melstone.
But with Papp out of the way, the Pioneers found the edge they needed to gain some ground. Big Sandy outscored the Broncs 20-10 in the final frame and started the fourth quarter with a 6-2 run.
Kaden Beck hit consecutive buckets for the Pioneers to take a 48-43 lead, and Zac Leader hit another bucket to give the Pioneers a 50-45 lead at the 5:36 mark. Melstone turned on the full-court press with about four minutes left, but a handful of Pioneers helped ensure the win. Leader, Jerry Hanson, Beck, Jessey Bailey and Kyle Strutz all hit baskets in the final stretch, helping Big Sandy outscore the Broncs 14-6 in the final four minutes.
After the first quarter of play, the Pioneers had to increase their productivity to keep up. The Broncs held a 17-11 lead after the first quarter. And after several possessions the Pioneers were able to take the 29-26 lead the break. Brayden Wacker led the Broncs with 10 points and eight rebounds at the half, while Kyle Wilson, another leading scorer for Melstone, was held to just five by the Big Sandy zone defense. But Papp also had just eight points at the break, as the Pioneers’ defense held strong until the Pioneers’ offense was able to run away with the win.
Hanson had 10 points at the break, including five steals for the Pioneers, setting the tone on both sides of the ball. But as the game progressed, the Pioneers were paced by Leader’s 18 points and 11 rebounds. Hanson finished with 17 points, while Lackner scored 11, Bailey finished with six and Strutz finished with four off the bench.
Big Sandy also finished the game with 18 turnovers and 31 rebounds. They were 24-of-42 from the field for 57 percent, 7-of-15 from three-point range for 46 percent, and 9-of-21 from the free throw line for 42 percent.
In other first-round action Thursday, defending state champion Fairview went down to Arlee, 63-53, while Northern C champion Roy-Winifred beat Wibaux 55-37. Westby-Grenora aced victor 64-58.
Big Sandy, which lost in the first round of the Northern C two weeks ago, has now reeled off five straight wins. The Pioneers will try and win again tonight when they face Westby-Grenora, also known as the Mon-Dak Thunder. The Pioneers and Thunder should be very familiar with each other after they squared off the Six-Man football quarterfinals back in the fall.
Tonight’s semifinal bout between the Pioneers and Thunder tips off at 8. The winner will meet the winner of the first semifinal game, which pits Arlee against Roy-Winifred.
Note: Sports Editor George Ferguson contributed to this story
Big Sandy 64, Melstone 53
Melstone 17 9 17 10 – 53
Big Sandy 11 18 15 20 – 64
Melstone – Mark Papp 15, Brayden Wacker 19, Kyle Wilson 14, Austin Dejaegher 5.
Big Sandy – Zac Leader 18, Trevor Lackner 11, Kaden Beck 8, Jerry Hanson 17, Jessey Bailey 6, Kyle Strutz 4.
Class C State
Roy-Winifred 55, Wibaux 37, first round
Arlee 63, Fairview 53, first round
Westby-Grenora 64, Victor 58, first round
Big Sandy 64, Melstone 51, first round
12:30 p.m. -- Wibaux vs. Fairview, loser-out
2 p.m. -- Victor vs. Melstone, loser-out
6:30 p.m. -- Roy-Winifred vs. Arlee, semifinal
8 p.m. -- Westby-Grenora vs. Big Sandy, semifinal
9:30 a.m. -- Friday 2 p.m. winner vs. Friday 6:30 p.m. loser, loser-out
11 a.m. -- Friday 12:30 p.m. winner vs. Friday 8 p.m. loser, loser-out
6:30 p.m. -- Morning winners, consolation
8 p.m. -- Friday 6:30 p.m. winner vs. Friday 8 p.m. winner, championship