By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

BUTTE – The Lone Peak High School basketball team lost a heartbreaker to the Shields Valley Rebels 51-49 on Feb. 22. After trailing by 10 points at the end of the third quarter, the Big Horns stormed back to tie the score at 49 late in the fourth. But a few late turnovers cost Lone Peak an opportunity to qualify for the divisional tournament for the first time in its three-year varsity history.

“The boys played well considering [Shields Valley] beat us pretty handily the first two times [we played them],” said Head Coach Al Malinowski. “We just needed to make another play.”

The Big Horns shot well from the outside, going 6 for 12 from beyond the three-point arc, but struggled from the free-throw line where they made only 3 of 13 foul shots.

Playing their fourth game in four days – including a one-game, play-in win over rivals West Yellowstone – they showed a lot of heart to play such a tight game with a very strong Shields Valley team, Malinowski said.

“The community and school should feel pretty proud of what those boys did,” he said.

The Rebels went on to beat Twin Bridges by 20 points in the third-place game in districts and lost to tourney champs Superior in divisionals. The Big Horns’ performance in districts was characteristic of the season as a whole: They battled hard, came up with big wins and proved they’re competitive in their division.

“We stuck around and watched the championship and third-place game,” Malinowski said. “A number of coaches and fans came up and said how well [the Big Horns] played. We earned a lot of respect from our style and impact.”

There wasn’t a single senior that played for the team this year, so next season should be promising as the Big Horns will be a year older without losing any players to graduation.

Even so, Malinowski says the boys’ focus was always on the present season.

The balanced scoring effort they put on the floor this year is also encouraging, he added. Nine different boys started games this season with seven different players leading the scoring attack.

The team will start summer practice and drills in June and July.