Big Sky ballers keep rolling
A blowout and a thriller; Seniors power playoff wins
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
BUTTE—Both Lone Peak High School Big Horn squads won in the first round of the Montana Class C western tournament on Thursday evening, and both will match up Friday against district rival Manhattan Christian.
All eight teams—four boys and four girls—from the Big Horns’ district 12C won their first-round matchups on Thursday. Lone Peak Athletic Director John Hannahs said the program has been trying to bring both teams to divisionals for a long time.
“Those kids are so close, and they support each other so well,” Hannahs told EBS. “To have them both come in and win and show that we belong here—both coming in at four seed—is a very satisfying feeling.”
The boys team made its first tournament appearance in school history, tipping off at 3:30 p.m. against the Tigers of St. Regis High School. The Big Horns jumped out to a 13-0 lead, as senior captain Max Romney scored 11 in the first quarter.
“We just came in really excited,” Romney said. “We’ve been playing really good basketball these last couple weeks. We know what we can do, and we want to prove it.”
Trailing 6-0, the Tigers’ coach called the game’s first time out. His shouts echoed through the half-full gymnasium:
“Where are you? What planet are you on? You’re glued to number five. He’s not that good!”
No. 5 is Big Horn sophomore Isaac Bedway, who proceeded to drain a triplet of 3-pointers and two more layups in the second quarter. Bedway scored 19 total points before injuring his left ankle midway through the fourth quarter. He was helped off the court.
Head coach Al Malinowski expects Bedway to make his best effort to return by tournament’s end on Saturday.
“Hopefully this was more [of a] scare than anything, and we’ll see if we can tape him up,” Malinowski said. “If he can’t play, he’s gonna be right there cheering his teammates on, encouraging them to help us move forward. That’s also why we’ve been working on our depth slowly over the course of the year.”
Behind Bedway’s 13-point second quarter effort, the Big Horns owned a 35-22 lead at halftime. They took a 20-point lead by the fourth quarter and advanced to a 75-48 victory.
“Our seniors really helped calm things,” Malinowski said. “You saw Max under control. Gus [Hammond], same thing. Ben [Saad] stepped up. When Isaac went down, [Saad] made some really big plays for us that helped stabilize the team as well.”
Senior captain Gus Hammond said the Big Horns focused on a press-break in practice, which allowed them to take advantage of the Tigers’ full court press.
“They played really high energy,” Romney said. “Good shooters, tough to guard them. They’re really fast, high-energy players. It’s a divisional team, it’s what we expected.”
Malinowski said this team has been sharpened by a competitive district 12C.
“We’ve played through close games, we’ve played through fire alarms, we’ve seen it all. Coming in, we felt that the season prepared us well for this,” he said. Both team captains are also confident.
“The goal is always to make state,” Hammond said. “I think we can make it happen one possession at a time.”
“We know who we can compete with, we know the level we can play at, we just gotta go out and execute it,” Romney added.
“I’m proud of this team,” Malinowski said. “That was the first time the boys team has won at divisionals. We feel good about that, but I don’t think we’re satisfied yet. We’re going to keep working, and another opportunity for us tomorrow.”
Thanks to the first-round win, the Big Horns can rest a full 24 hours before facing Manhattan Christian High School on Friday at 5 p.m. The Eagles won their first-round game 91-53 against Darby High School.
Relentless effort pays off
The girls team never held a lead until the final five seconds of play.
The Big Horns opened with sloppy play; turnovers, travels, fouls, missed layups and poor rebounding allowed the Superior/Albertson Bobcats to take 26-19 halftime lead.
In the locker room during halftime, the Lone Peak coaches told the girls to “play to win, rather than play not to lose,” according to head coach Loren Bough.
“We really decided to increase our pressure and cause more turnovers,” Bough said. “We ‘rotated up’ on the press, and that really helped get more steals and caused more fouls.
“We kept the fight alive,” Bough said. “We just didn’t quit in any way, even though we made a lot of mistakes. Probably the best lesson these girls can learn from this game and for life, is sometimes you just gotta keep fighting.”
The Bobcats were the first-place team in their district and lost only a pair of games. Bough pointed out that the Big Horns played in a tough district 12C, which helped teach his team to maintain composure down the stretch.
After halftime, the Big Horns outscored the Bobcats 9-2 and tied the score at 28. They slipped back to an eight-point deficit in the fourth, but responded again by scoring eight unanswered points to tie the score at 46.
“These girls, especially these last few weeks, have been down and fought their way back,” Hannahs said. “It’s something—you can’t coach that. They either want it more than the other team, or they don’t. And [the Big Horns] definitely wanted it more.”
Senior Kate King splashed five 3-pointers, answering a sharp-shooting Bobcat team.
“I was feeling good tonight,” King said. “Confident. It helped that my teammates were giving me good passes, making good layups and getting rebounds as well. Team effort for sure.”
With 25 seconds left, the Big Horns trailed by three points. Senior Josie Wilcynski found King wide open in the corner.
“The last one I knew was going in the second it came off my hand,” King said. “Josie threw a good pass to me, and I was open in the corner so I took it. Knocked it down.”
After the game, King was giving credit to clutch plays made by her teammates when Big Sky School District Superintendent Dustin Shipman interrupted, declared her game-tying 3-ball “the most clutch shot of 2023,” and high-fived her.
King’s bucket tied the score at 51.
With seven seconds on the clock and the score tied, senior captain Jessie Bough scored a go-ahead layup on an in-bounds play.
“Our play had gone wrong, but we all kept working,” Jessie said. “The lane opened up for me, and Maddie Cone made an awesome pass.”
Coach Bough said Cone and Wilcynski played their hearts out at the end of the game.
The Big Horns led for the first time, 53-51, with just under five seconds remaining. On the full-court press, Wilcynski nearly stole the in-bounds pass. Instead, she committed a foul and sent her opponent to the free throw line for a one-and-one opportunity.
The first shot landed. The second did not, and Cone grabbed the board. Three seconds later, the buzzer sounded the Big Horns’ second-ever divisional tournament win.
EBS asked Hannahs about Big Horn wins during their final season before becoming a Class B program.
“It’s kind of poetic, isn’t it?” Hannahs said. “Our last year in [class] C and we’re getting to this level, and we get to start a whole new adventure next year. We’ve got some pretty good teams coming down the line, so we’re going to try to keep it up.”
This Big Horn squad will try to keep it up against Manhattan Christian on Friday at 8 p.m.
“They are considered a top-three team in the state,” coach Bough said. “We think we match up well them. They are basically the size of a college team—they have two 6-foot-3 players, a 6-foot-1 player, a 6-foot player and a 5-foot-9 player. We’ll have a good plan for keeping the spacing on our side of the court.”
As for the current goal for the girls team, Jessie Bough has been locked in since early December.
“Hey, I told you at the beginning of the season, state,” she said. “It’s not always clean, but…”