Montana Prep Basketball: Recap from the first two days of the Northern C Divisional Tournament

Darren Malek and the Highwood Mountaineers won their Northern C Divisional opener over Denton Thursday. TRIBUNE PHOTO/RION SANDERS

Darren Malek and the Highwood Mountaineers won their Northern C Divisional opener over Denton Thursday. TRIBUNE PHOTO/RION SANDERS

I meant to write a blog entry yesterday, but I simply didn’t have it in me after four games of the Northern C Divisional tournament at Four Seasons Arena. So I decided to write one today after six more games.

Day 1 of girls’ action on Wednesday featured four sluggish games where neither team was able to sustain offense. Much can be made of the fact that the Four Seasons is a much bigger venue than most Class C schools and the bigger court and more depth beyond the backboards can throw off depth perception and alter shots.

“It’s kind of hard to play here that first go-round,” Geraldine girls’ coach Rod Tweet said Wednesday.  “There’s more open area and the floor is bigger. Kids have to run farther and maybe they get more tired. I think shots just don’t fall quite as good.”

“I don’t know what it is about this place,” added Chinook junior Emily Dennis. “It’s big – a lot bigger than most high school gyms. But it’s the next step, the next level. I think it gets to our younger players and apparently our older players too.”

Day 2 featured two girls’ loser-out games and two girls’ semifinal games sandwiched around four first-round boys’ games. There weren’t any surprises on the boys’ side as all four district champions moved on to the semifinals.

Dutton-Brady got the day started with a 63-61 thriller over Big Sandy. The Diamondbacks trailed by six at the half before coming back for the win.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” D-B senior Tiegan Johnson said. “On defense we stopped giving them easy looks and offensive rebounds and layups (in the second half). And then not turning the ball over (was important).”

Highwood, the defending state runner-up wasted no time as it jumped out to a 26-6 first-quarter lead over Denton.

“They came out on fire today – they were excited,” Highwood coach Aaron Skogen said. “It’s been a long season for us because we put so much time in during the offseason that once the season takes off, it keeps building and building and building and I know all week they’ve been dying to get to the divisional tournament to start their game.”

Highwood is one of the smallest schools in the tournament, but the Mountaineers go nine players deep, something of an aberration for schools of that size. The big early lead allowed Skogen to rest his regulars in anticipation of Friday’s semifinal and beyond.

“The second half we were really just pulling back,” Skogen said. “We were pressing them up man the whole first half and we switched to zone just to run some clock out and I was trying to get to a point where we could pull our guys and get them ready for tomorrow.”

Great Falls Central made its first divisional tournament appearance since 2004 – the first year the tournament was held at the Four Seasons. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, they lost star Glenn Bliss to a knee injury in the district final against Highwood and drew No. 2 and unbeaten Roy/Winifred in the first round.

The Mustangs hung tough for awhile before ultimately falling 53-39 to the Outlaws. Still, the boisterous GFCC crowd never wanted, even when it became apparent the Mustangs were going to lose.

“We’ve got a great crowd,” GFCC coach Chris Kelly said. “They’re fantastic.”

In the final boys’ game of the night, Box Elder outlasted a plucky upset bid by Simms, which has become the underdog darling of the 2013 postseason.

Simms upset Valier and Heart Butte at the district tournament to reach the district final where it fell to Dutton-Brady. The Tigers couldn’t keep the magic going against Box Elder as the Bears prevailed 68-62 to earn the semifinal matchup with No. 2 R/W.

“(Friday) night is probably going to be our biggest test of the season,” Box Elder coach Jeremy MacDonald said. “It’s the No. 2 team in the state. They’re undefeated; they’re favored to win this tournament. It will be probably the first time since we played Big Sandy at their gym that we’ll go into a game as an underdog.”

The evening wrapped with the two girls’ semifinal games. Belt pulled away from North Star late and Winnett/Grass Range held off Chinook to create a No. 1-vs.-No.2 divisional final.

“The effort was there yesterday and it was there today,” Belt coach Jeff Graham said. “We just got some shots and some confidence.”

Action resumes at 8 a.m. today with loser-out boys’ action. The boys’ semifinals are at 4 and 5:30 while the girls’ final is at 8:30.



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