By Dan Kelly EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – The day after beating Shields Valley 67-46 on Jan. 25, Lone Peak faced the talented and athletic Gardiner Bruins, who entered the game with a sole loss to Manhattan Christian and a record of 12-1. The Big Horns, who are currently 7-5 overall and 3-4 in district play, were beaten 90-50 on Jan. 26, at Lone Peak High School.

The Big Horns were noticeably outrebounded and faced intense pressure from the Gardiner defense throughout the game. Lone Peak battled the Bruins fervently, but the shots were falling for Gardiner from all over the court, and after taking the lead 13-10 midway through the first, they piled on the points for the next three quarters.

There were some bright spots in the first half for the Big Horns, including a great assist from sophomore guard Frankie Starz to senior guard Liam Germain, and some effective inside-outside passing from senior forward Jackson Wade to sophomore guard Austin Samuels for a three-pointer.

Wade and Starz both scored 13 points for the Big Horns, with Germain adding 11 points and Samuels tallying 7 points in the game.

The game was a season-high in number of turnovers by the Big Horns, coupled with an exceptional shooting performance by the visiting team. Gardiner was in a full court press almost the entire game, forcing mistakes from the Big Horns as they attempted to break the Bruins’ press and make their way toward the basket.

The deep Bruins team exhausted Lone Peak with their up-tempo pace of play, and ability to swap out their entire team on the floor with very capable players from the bench, often substituting all five players simultaneously.

“They had great defensive pressure which was new coming from this team,” said LPHS coach Austin Barth. “They forced a season-high amount of turnovers for us and really that’s where the game got out of hand.”

Gardiner continued their suffocating defense and excellent shooting performance in the second half, erupting to score 32 points in the third quarter. Gardiner’s two leading scorers, Bryson Stermitz and Clancy Thomas, tallied a total of 17 points after the break. The game was out of reach at that point and the Bruins led 80-45 at the end of the third.
Free throw shooting was less than spectacular for the Big Horns, making only 50 percent of their shots from the stripe, while rival Gardiner made 70 percent of their 20 foul shots. All 10 Big Horns players got playing time in the game, which ended with a final score of 90-50, Bruins.

The Big Horns team has held its own this year and currently sits in third place in a tough district led by Manhattan Christian (7-0 in district play, 13-2 overall), and Gardiner (6-1 in district play, 12-1 overall), both teams among the top 10 in Class C statewide.

In his inaugural season as coach of the Big Horns, Barth offered some reflections on the season thus far, noting the senior leadership and exciting players coming up through the ranks.

“The younger players have grown up a lot with Frankie [Starz], Austin [Samuels] and Brayden [Vaile],” Barth said. “All three of them have different roles and have stepped up to make this team better. Our seniors have done a great job in their roles. Jackson [Wade] has been a consistent scorer for us and Liam [Germain] has stepped up on defense every game shutting down their best player.”

Next up for the Big Horns is Manhattan Christian at home on Feb. 2, followed by an away game at Twin Bridges on Feb. 3, and at West Yellowstone on Feb. 8. Senior day is Feb. 9, against Sheridan at Lone Peak High School.

Visit bssd72.org/athletics/ for a complete season schedule.