Senior post Chris Thompkins shoots through a foul against West Yellowstone. "He had a heck of a senior year," said LPHS head coach Al Malinowski, adding that he finished the season with 149 points. PHOTO BY TORI PINTAR

Senior post Chris Thompkins shoots through a foul against West Yellowstone. “He had a heck of a senior year,” said LPHS head coach Al Malinowski, adding that he finished the season with 149 points. PHOTO BY TORI PINTAR

By Amanda Eggert EBS Staff Writer

Big Horns finish post-season play with one win, two losses

BIG SKY – The Lone Peak High School Big Horns entered the 11/12C District tournament strong with a win against rival West Yellowstone, but subsequently lost to two tough teams and were knocked out of contention.

On Feb. 18 the LPHS boys lost to Ennis, the number one-ranked team going into the tournament that went on to win it all. In the consolation bracket the next day, they lost to Shields Valley, who would secure third place.

The highlight for LPHS in Districts, however, came on Feb. 17 when they faced West Yellowstone for the third time this season. The Big Horns lost to the Wolverines by one point on Jan.15 and beat them 51-44 at home during the Big Horns’ last regular season game on Feb. 12.

LPHS head coach Al Malinowski said the Big Horns’ strong rebounding, solid defense and commitment to making it to the foul line helped them secure their most recent win, 45-34.

“We got to the free throw line 33 times, so I think we did a good job of being aggressive and getting fouled,” Malinowski said, adding that the boys sunk 20 of the 33 free-throw attempts.

Down low, posts Chris Tompkins and Jackson Wade had strong games, scoring nine and 10 points, respectively. The Big Horns outrebounded the Wolverines 32-29, while junior guard Eddie Starz led the charge on that front with eight, and sophomore Wade followed with seven.

Starz scored a game-high 23 points. “I really thought Eddie had a really good tournament on the whole,” Malinowski said. “You saw an increased intensity in teams trying to focus on stopping him, starting with West and continuing with Ennis and Shields, and he found a way to continue scoring.”

The following day the Big Horns lost 53-32 to Ennis, a team with a deep bench of big, experienced players.

Malinowski said neither team played to its full potential, and the Big Horns appeared to be off mentally, perhaps from playing such an emotional and close game the day before.

“Unfortunately that resulted in way too many turnovers,” Malinowski said. “You can’t play a top-ranked team, turn over the ball 29 times and expect to win.” The Mustangs scored 15 points off turnovers.

The Big Horns played a close game Feb. 19 against the Shields Valley Rebels, another close rival. “We both want to win like crazy, but I think there’s a lot of mutual respect between the coaches and players of those two teams,” Malinowski said. The two squads squared off at the District tournament several times in recent years.

More assertive playmaking, a few more buckets from the 3-point line and more aggressive rebounding might have made the difference in that game.

The Big Horns made 4 of 21 attempts from behind the 3-point arc and stepped up to the free-throw line just seven times. They also racked up 16 team fouls, five of which belonged to Eddie Starz, who fouled out in the third quarter.

“I would have obviously much rather had Eddie in there for the fourth quarter, but at the same time I was really impressed with how the remaining five players rallied and competed and played very well against the team that ended up winning third place,” Malinowski said.

Malinowski said it’s like watching two different teams when he compares game footage from the start of the season to the end. “I’ve never graded our team’s success on a certain number of victories or winning by a certain number of points [but instead] where did we start [and] where did we finish,” he said. “As an overall team, I’m very proud of the improvement.”

Starz set records for most career points with 827, most points in a season with 434, most points in a game with 39, and most free throws in a season with 85. “He’s pretty much got the record book in his name at this point,” Malinowski said.

The Big Horns also set a record for highest scoring game when they beat Sheridan 87-54 on Jan. 23.

Next season, Districts will be configured so that 11C and 12C won’t be combined. Under the new boundaries, LPHS, West Yellowstone, Manhattan Christian, Gardiner, White Sulphur Springs and Shields Valley will be in the 11C district.

Ennis, Harrison, Twin Bridges, Lima and Sheridan will be in 12C, and will be joined by Drummond and Phillipsburg’s Granite High School.

“I think we should have a better seeded tournament because everyone in your district will play everybody twice, once home and once away,” Malinowski said. The Big Horns will still play teams from outside 11C, but those games won’t figure into District tournament seeding.

During the 2015-16 season, game scheduling didn’t allow for each team to play every other team in the district twice. As a result, some teams played a tougher schedule, which subsequently affected their record and seeding going into the tournament.

Lady Big Horns end strong season with tournament losses

Luisa Locker goes up for a jump shot against White Sulphur Springs during the Lady Big Horns' 51-35 loss to the Hornets at the District 11/12C tournament. PHOTO BY JILL BOUGH

Luisa Locker goes up for a jump shot against White Sulphur Springs during the Lady Big Horns’ 51-35 loss to the Hornets at the District 11/12C tournament. PHOTO BY JILL BOUGH

BIG SKY – When White Sulphur Springs showed up to play LPHS at the District 11/12C tournament Feb. 18, they had the Lady Big Horns’ number.

The two teams played once during the regular season, and LPHS walked away with a 47-33 win. This time, the Hornets defeated the Lady Big Horns by 16 points.

“They did a good job scouting us,” said LPHS head coach Nubia Allen. “They knew we were a more guard-oriented team.”

The Hornets adjusted their defense accordingly, holding LPHS top scorers Luisa Locker and Dasha Bough to six and nine points, respectively. Throughout the season, junior guard Bough averaged 11.4 points per game, while Locker, a junior point guard, averaged 10. The two averages were the highest on the team.

The Lady Big Horns couldn’t gain traction in the paint to put more points on the board. Posts Bianca Godoy, Jenna McKillop and K.P. Hoffman scored just eight points between them. “Our inside game wasn’t on, it wasn’t as effective as usual,” Allen said.

LPHS held on to the lead in the first half – they were up 21-19 at the buzzer – but gradually ceded ground to White Sulphur Springs.

Junior guard Bella Butler played an aggressive game, penetrating for layups and sinking two 3-pointers. Butler led the Big Horns in scoring with 12 points. “She came to play,” Allen said. “She was just attacking the basket like I’ve never seen before.”

White Sulphur Springs junior Mesa Williams earned a game-high 25 points. “We let her get hot and we just couldn’t stop her,” Allen said. “We couldn’t find an answer for her.”

The Hornets established a 32-27 lead by the start of the fourth quarter and stretched it to 51-35 by the game’s close, scoring 19 fourth quarter points to LPHS’s eight.

The following day, the Lady Big Horns took on the Shields Valley Rebels, a team they beat by 19 in early January and lost to by 11 in late January.

Locker and Bough had banner nights, scoring 70 percent of LPHS’s points. “Luisa and Dasha shot the lights out,” Allen said. “They were both on.” They each drained two 3-pointers, and Bough scored 21 points total. Locker wasn’t far behind with 18 points on the night.

LPHS and Shields Valley traded leads throughout the game. At the end of the half, the Lady Big Horns were up 27-20, but by the start of the fourth quarter, they were leading by just two points.

Allen said the two teams were evenly matched in many respects – shooting percentages, rebounds and turnovers – but the Lady Big Horns’ relative lack of postseason tournament experience hurt them.

“The difference in that game was us making mistakes in critical situations,” Allen said. “[Shields Valley] handled important situations better than we did.” Ultimately, the Rebels won 57-56.

Even so, Allen said she’s proud of the girls’ performance in the tournament. “The best thing about losing like we did – being the third seed and not making it to Divisionals – is that the girls are ready. They’re already talking about next year.”

The outlook is good for the Lady Big Horns’ 2016-17 season, as Allen won’t lose any players to graduation. Open gym practices are already underway.

“I think we are where want to be and we can see the bright side of losing the way we did. I think it just puts a fire under the girls, especially the [six juniors].”