The team that raised the bar
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
BILLINGS—The Lone Peak High School Big Horns bounced back from Thursday’s loss with a strong showing, but couldn’t hang with the Lustre Christian High School Lions and fell 59-48.
The Lions were undefeated in the regular season, holding the No. 1 rank in all of Class C during that time. Following an upset loss to Big Sandy High School on Thursday, the Lions challenged the Big Horns for a spot in the state consolation bracket semifinal.
The Lions edged a two-point lead with a buzzer-beating layup to end the first quarter, but the Big Horns responded to take a 15-11 lead early in the second. Junior Juliusz Shipman had a pair of early 3-pointers, and senior captain Max Romney gave the Big Horns an 18-14 lead with a three of his own—his ninth point in the first half.
After Romney’s basket, the Lions finished the second quarter on a 14-2 run, sending the Big Horns to the locker room with an eight-point deficit.
The bleeding continued after halftime and the Big Horns fell further behind. Midway through the third quarter they trailed 38-22. Sophomore Isaac Bedway’s 3-pointer helped make a dent, but the Lions kept control and held a 42-30 lead to begin the fourth.
It took two minutes for Romney and fellow captain Gus Hammond to get their boys back on track. Romney—who would lead both teams in scoring with 19 points—opened the quarter with a pair from the charity stripe, and Hammond tacked on five more between a forceful layup and a 3-pointer. Suddenly 42-37 with six minutes remaining, the Lions answered by burning three minutes and scoring seven to restore a 12-point advantage.
As the clock ticked closer to a bus ride home, the Big Horns failed to spark a dramatic comeback. Shipman, Romney, Bedway and Hammond added can’t-miss baskets, but Lustre Christian executed on their possessions and foul shots to secure the victory.
Head coach Al Malinowski saw the Lions and their fans cheering in the final seconds. In the locker room after the game, he reminded the Big Horns that it’s a sign of respect when the No. 1 ranked team is excited to beat your program.
“They’re a tough team,” said head coach Al Malinowski. “They go eight deep. Up until yesterday, they were undefeated, the No. 1 team in the state.”
“I saw a team that’s battled all year, that’s had their back against the wall so many times,” he added. “And they keep fighting. I am incredibly proud of this team. It hurts right now…. If you told me Nov. 18 that we’d suffer two losses at the state tournament, I’d say that’s a pretty good season.”
Malinowski hopes his players will quickly recognize that they’ve changed the standard—not just for Lone Peak boys basketball, but for the athletic program and community—by showing they can excel.
“I think we’ll be able to look back and say this was the team that raised the bar for this overall program,” Malinowski said.
He gave credit to seniors for their leadership and said this season will put Lone Peak in a stronger position as they transition into Class B next year. While they don’t expect to dominate, Malinowski said they’ll be prepared to compete.
Freshman Ebe Grabow said the Big Horns will get to work early, get a solid team going, and hopefully earn another shot at state. Bedway said he learned this season to communicate with teammates and hopes to fill the void of leadership that all four seniors will leave.
“We’re going to need certain people to step up,” Bedway said. “We’re gonna play a lot in the summer and work out with each other, learn to play each other, and be ready.”
Not a bad place to go out
Hammond and Romney were emotional in the final moments of their high school careers. From the corner, Hammond splashed the Big Horns’ final points and wiped tears after sending the Lions back to the free throw line. After shaking hands, the captains paused to hug while their teammates walked through a tunnel of high-fives from a few dedicated classmates.
A few minutes later, Hammond’s voice echoed from the locker room.
“BIG HORNS ON THREE, FAMILY ON SIX,” he shouted, and the team answered. Shortly after, the team shared laughter and some walked out with a smile.
“You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone,” Hammond told EBS. “Basketball has been, quite frankly, my only sport. So it’s going to be a big change. Yeah, it hit pretty hard.”
Romney added, “it’s too bad. Put so much into this sport, too bad to go out like that. Every team goes home with a loss except for one. To be one of the top eight teams in the state and just be here, is pretty awesome. I can’t help but feel proud that we’ve done that.”
Both captains agreed they left it all on the court in their second tournament loss.
“We wanted it a lot more today,” Romney said. “We wanted to win. We played much more team basketball today, found the open man, made some nice passes. I think today we just worked a lot harder.”
“We had to get a game under our belt in the state tournament,” Hammond said. “We had to put it all out there. You lose and you go home, and unfortunately we went home. But we left it all out on the court.”
Romney thanked fans for making the long drive from Big Sky, and said he looks forward to helping the team get ready in the offseason before heading off to college.
After speaking with EBS, Romney and Hammond walked back into the gymnasium, now mostly empty as state competition paused for the afternoon.
“Not a bad to place to go out, huh?” Romney said, patting his teammate on the back.