First ever Class C Western appearance for boys, third for girls
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
Both Lone Peak High School varsity squads will return to Butte on Thursday and begin their campaign for the western division of Montana Class C.
Both boys and girls finished in fourth place in the district 12C tournament after losing consolation matchups on Saturday, Feb. 18. The boys will face St. Regis High School from district 14C on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., before the girls face Superior/Alberton at 6:30.
In the entire district 12C tournament, the Big Horn boys were the only team to play five games. They advanced from their play-in win against Lima High School all the way to the consolation game—five contests in 75 hours, according to head coach Al Malinowski.
“The boys deserved it,” Malinowski told EBS in a phone call. “They worked hard and it wasn’t an easy road.”
After losing to Harrison High School in their first-round matchup on Thursday, the Big Horns beat Sheridan High School 66-50 on Friday morning. On Saturday morning, they faced Ennis High School on Montana Technical University’s Kelvin Samson Court. The winner would reach divisionals and end the losing team’s season.
Senior captains Max Romney and Gus Hammond combined for 34 points in the Big Horns’ 52-39 win over the Mustangs, which earned them a spot in the consolation game hours later. They rematched with Harrison, a strong opponent who handled the exhausted Big Horns squad for the third time this season.
“We gave them a battle for a little while and we were pretty beat at that point,” Malinowski said, adding that all 12 players gained experience in a big district game.
“It was good for us to be able to do that,” Malinowski said. “I think we were able to get all our guys in three out of the five games. Some of the games were still close.”
Malinowski said that none of his 12 players have played in front of that many people. Even seniors had never reached a point in districts where other schools were watching.
“The heckling, the noise, the loud crowds and the bands,” Malinowski said. “One through 12, a learning experience.”
They are the first ever Lone Peak High School boys team to reach divisonals.
Malinowski expects even bigger crowds as more teams stay overnight in Butte. West Yellowstone, Harrison and Manhattan Christian High Schools also moved on from 12C.
“Given that we haven’t been here, it certainly was one of our goals to break through with this team and achieve this,” Malinowski said. “We’ve accomplished many of our goals with the season, and this is yet another one. But we don’t want to be satisfied by what we’ve done so far.”
He hopes the team will continue their trend of playing their best basketball down the stretch and making small improvements each game, while hanging in tough matchups.
“We’ve played in one of the toughest districts in the state, in my personal opinion,” Malinowski said. “We recognize that we’ve been battle tested by the kind of competition we’ve seen.’’
Last year, all four boys’ teams to move on from divisonals to the state tournament came from district 12C.
“I was with the boys’ program for the first eight years before taking a break,” Malinowski reflected. “While [divisionals has] been a long time coming, it’s been an effort of all the past players and coaches, building and learning as we go. This team took it to the next level and they deserve credit, but there’s so many people who helped build this program along.”
Girls back for third divisional tournament
On Friday night, the Big Horn girls faced Twin Bridges High School for a chance to reach the district 12C championship.
Ranked No. 2 in Montana, the Falcons ran away with the game in the third quarter and defeated the Big Horns.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” head coach Loren Bough told EBS in a phone call. “They are bigger, stronger, faster at every position.”
Every Big Horn got some playing time in the loss, in front of crowds of roughly 1,000 people, Bough said. “Classic Montana Friday night, Saturday night late game experience.”
On Saturday morning, the Big Horns faced Gardiner for a chance to reach divisionals. Behind strong 3-point shooting and effective full court press, the Big Horns ended Gardiner’s season and punched their divisionals ticket for the third time in program history.
“It’s an accomplishment we’re super excited about,” Bough said. He noted clutch 3-pointers from senior captain Jessie Bough and tremendous rebounding from senior Maddie Cone and junior Vera Grabow.
Saturday afternoon, the Big Horns faced Ennis in the consolation game. They owned a 19-9 halftime lead, but coach Bough said mental errors and poor free throw shooting allowed a Mustang comeback. The Big Horns lost by three points.
“We need to learn how to finish a team,” Bough said. “We had the game under control.”
Bough said the team’s biggest strength is their level of fitness, which allows them to use a full-court press. They proved that as they played four games in three days, he said.
Superior/Alberton holds the No. 1 seed, and should be a strong opponent on Thursday night.
“They are undefeated in their conference [and] won their conference championship by 20 points,” Bough said. “On the other hand, our district is the second toughest in the state. I think we’ve had trial by fire during the season and should work to our advantage tournament time.”