By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Lone Peak had a déjà-vu moment when they entered this year’s 11C District tournament Feb. 16: they opened the postseason playing West Yellowstone, the same team they defeated during their last game of the regular season.
The story was similar last year with a regular-season Big Horn win followed by a tournament season win. “That’s always a very emotional game,” said Lone Peak head coach Al Malinowksi. “They don’t want to lose to us and we don’t want to lose to them.”
All five of Lone Peak’s starters posted respectable numbers to contribute to the team’s 68-43 win. Senior guard Eddie Starz led the team with 18 points and senior post Bridger Babcock had 13. Juniors Jackson Wade, a post, and guard Liam Germain both contributed 10 points and sophomore point guard Kolya Bough notched seven.
In addition to outshooting the Wolverines, the Big Horns out-rebounded them 26 to 16, succeeding in an aspect of the game they struggled with during much of the season.
Lone Peak was particularly energized when guard Gus Hoffman sank the first 3-pointer of his career—an “exciting moment for a freshman in a District tournament game,” Malinowski said.
The Big Horns’ next matchup, against the Gardiner Bruins, proved to be tougher. During the regular season, Lone Peak lost to the Bruins by more than 20 points both times they squared off.
“We know we can compete with them and we did compete with them,” Malinowski said. “[But] they run a pretty deep bench—I think they play eight to 10 players pretty regularly—and our depth wasn’t quite there to match that.”
The Big Horns lost 76-55 after struggling from the foul line, making just 11 of 31 attempts.
The following day, Lone Peak won 55-49 over Shields Valley, a team that has historically been a close competitor.
Their next opponent was White Sulphur Springs, another rival. “All three of our games against them [this season] were tightly contested,” Malinowski said. “Really it came down to a play or two to determine who won.”
And on Feb. 18, the Hornets came out on top 58-54 to take third place in Districts.
Malinowski said he was proud of the team for showing up and paying two tough games in close succession on the last day of the tournament. Starz, who has an impressive collection of scoring records to his name, put up 54 points between the two games.
Malinowski said Starz’s 1,334 career points record should stand for some time. “I think it’s going to be a record [for a while]—certainly long after I’m coaching here.”
Although he said it’s hard to see Starz and Babcock go, Malinowski feels good about what’s in store for the Big Horns.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s also a lot of fun to watch that transition happen,” he said. “Some of those younger guys are starting to figure out who they’ll be for us in the future.”