By Dan Kelly EBS Contributor

BIG SKY- Despite a strong first half, the Big Horns couldn’t quite overcome White Sulphur Springs’ stifling zone defense and fell to the Hornets, 66-55, in their competitive Dec. 15 home opener.

Lone Peak faced off against the Hornets in their first conference game of the 2017-2018 season in front of a lively crowd of supporters wearing Lone Peak blue and white.

The Big Horns’ starting lineup, composed of Jackson Wade, Liam Germain, Kolya Bough, Cole March and Frankie Starz were quick out of the gate, opening the game on a 6-0 run with early baskets by Wade and Germain. The Hornets responded quickly and battled back with senior Duncan MacDonald knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter.

Lone Peak sought to establish their inside game, feeding the ball to senior center Jackson Wade, who netted 11 first quarter points in a strong start to the game that saw all five Big Horn starters tally points.

With the Big Horns leading the Hornets 21-19 at the end of the first, the Hornets switched to a suffocating 3-2 zone defense and pulled even with Lone Peak early in the second quarter, tying up the game at 21.

“When they switched to that 3-2 defense, we kind of lost our mojo,” said Lone Peak High School Head Coach Austin Barth, who’s joined this season by assistant coaches John Hannahs and Brian VanEps.

Each team scored two baskets in the first four minutes of the second quarter and with the game tied at 25, Liam Germain drained a 3-pointer with 3:19 on the clock to give the Big Horns a 28-26 lead.

Lone Peak played tough defense and rebounded well in the closing minutes of the second quarter, going on a 6-0 run to finish the half capped by a field goal by sophomore Brayden Vaile. As the teams headed to the locker room for halftime, the Big Horns led the Hornets 34-30 in a physical battle of two strong-willed teams on this Friday night matchup at Lone Peak High School.

The second half opened with the Hornets going on a six-point run of their own to make the score 36-34. White Sulphur Springs also dialed in the execution of the zone defense they employed at the outset of the second quarter, forcing the Big Horns to take tougher, more contested shots as the game went on. Physical post play by Wade evened up the score at 36, stymieing the building buzz of the Hornets, but not for long, as White Sulphur Springs rallied to make the score 42-37.

A big 3-pointer by White Sulphur Springs’ MacDonald put the score at 45-37, Hornets lead, midway through the third quarter. Undaunted, Lone Peak carried on, led by team captains Wade, Germain and Bough, whose steady hand at the point guard position helped the Big Horns continue to move the ball well around the staunch defense of White Sulphur Springs.

The momentum shifted as Lone Peak racked up eight points during an impressive run capped by sophomore guard Frankie Starz’s 3-pointer to bring LPHS within three points of the Hornets. Basketball is a game of often see-saw like scoring runs, and this game was no different as these district rivals dove for loose balls, played tough defense and sought to pass the ball effectively, neither team giving ground as the quarter closed with the Big Horns down by one, 48-47.

As the fourth quarter opened the Hornets struck first, but Lone Peak answered with a baseline jumper from Starz. Back and forth it went, with White Sulphur Springs hitting some tough shots as the Big Horns experienced some unlucky bounces, shots ever so slightly caroming off the rim. A four-point Hornets run put the game at 58-52, White Sulphur Springs’ lead, and the Big Horns simply ran out of time at the end of what was a hard-fought early season battle. After a series of tactical fouls by Big Horns, the final score stood 66-55, Hornets.

Building on lessons from this early season game, the gritty Big Horns team looks poised to be competitive this season with Barth at the helm. “Looking at the talent of our team, we have it all, and now it’s just putting the puzzle together coming into a new system,” Barth said.

With many more exciting district match-ups coming up, the team from Lone Peak will be battling it out on the hardwood all winter as the snow flies under the Big Sky.

The Big Horns will hit the road for their next game with a Friday, Dec. 22 matchup against Shields Valley followed by a Friday, Jan. 5 home game against Twin Bridges.