BOX ELDER –– Once basketball season ends, competitive basketball is far from over in Lakota country. This weekend at Douglas High School, the Wichahpi Topa Society hosted the inaugural Rain-in-the- Face Classic, a 112 team-three day tournament which crowns six champions in three age groups.
“I think the tournament went well,” Tournament Director and Wichahpi Topa Society CEO Adonis Saltes said. “Some great players came. I’m sad it’s over but happy it’s the last game. It takes more work to run a tournament than play in it.”
Born in Pine Ridge, Saltes played his high school ball in New Mexico and is currently a sophomore point guard at Southern Utah. Along with partner Miranda Reyes, Saltes started the Wichahpi Topa Society in 2016, “in order to preserve the Lakota way of life, the philosophies and values instilled in us by our ancestors.”Originally slated for the Rapid City Stevens High School gym, the tournament eventually moved to Douglas and gave college scouts an opportunity to take a good look at some of the best basketball players in the state. The high school teams in particular were loaded with talent that exceeded any regular high school team, although many were playing together for the first time. The tournament format was double elimination, and if an undefeated team should lose in the championship game, another five-minute game was played to determine the champion. Each game was divided into 14-minute halves, with a running clock until the last two minutes. The high school teams played 16- minute halves. The field was divided into three boys and girls age groups: 10-12, 13-15 and high school. Girls on Fire won the Girls 10-12, and Native Hoopers won the Boys 10-12.
A scholarship was offered to the top player of the tournament, and the first recipient was shooting guard Mason Archambault of Rapid City, who lead the RC Stevens Raiders to a fifth place finish at this year’s Class AA tournament. Turning down lots of scholarship offers, graduating senior Archambault has elected to spend another year at Florida’s Rocktop Academy before attempting to play college ball, because he says he needs to work more on “my ball handling” to “get ready for college.” Archambault was also a member of the Crow Creek Gunz, who won the Boys high school championship at Rain-in-the-Face.
Boys High School:
Crow Creek Gunz 70,
Pine Ridge Sioux 33
Minutes after winning a tough elimination game, Coach Shawn Keith’s Pine Ridge boys had to take the championship floor against the undefeated Crow Creek Gunz. Having already lost to the Gunz in an earlier game by three points, this game figured to be nip-and-tuck. Pine Ridge had the likes of Halin Bad Bear, Sam and Dan Hand, Cetan Big Crow, and Juwon Garnier. What they didn’t have was fresh legs, and it showed as the game wore on.
Bad Bear came out ready for battle, and when he hit a three-pointer with 14:22 left in the first half, Pine Ridge led, 7-0. Crow Creek quickly came back, largely on the hustling play of 6-4 Luke Wells, and Sonny Martin knotted it up 7-7 on a lay-up. Wells then drove a Pine Ridge turnover to the bucket, and was fouled. After hitting both free throws, the Gunz took the lead for good, 9-7.
By halftime Crow Creek was up 38-20. Pine Ridge was visibly tired and was struggling to get back on defense or chase down loose balls. Archambault didn’t help by coming out the second half with a beautiful drive that put Crow Creek up by 20. Pine Ridge tried to close the gap by bombing threes, but the Gunz repeatedly converted turnovers to points, and when Josiah Blue Arm broke free for a stuff, Crow Creek led 64-33. Jayden McBride then hit back-to-back threes, making it 70-33, with 5:19 to play, and the mercy rule was called.
Team members for the Gunz were Payton Means, Sonny Martin, Joe Sazue, Mason Archambault, Luke Wells, Josiah Blue Arm, Teron Sazue, Danny Sazue and Trevin McBride. The Gunz were coached by Joe Sazue, Sr.
Girls High School:
Lady Bombers 33
Little Wound called their team “Sho-Tyme,” and Pine Ridge countered with the Lady Bombers. Having lost to Sho-Tyme earlier in the tournament, the Lady Bombers would have to beat Sho-Tyme in the championship game, and then win a 5-minute rubber match to win the championship.
“The kids know there’s recruiters watching, and everyone’s bring their A game,” Sh-Tyme Coach Naca Charging Crow said. His daughter, Miracle Spotted Bear, took center stage, scoring the first bucket for her team, after the Bombers had jumped out to a 5-0 lead. A length-of-court lay-up by Katerri Weston put Sho-Tyme up 11-5, and capped an 11-point run, and the girls from Kyle would never look back again. By halftime they were up by ten, 18-8.
Taysha Big Crow was tough inside, drawing lots of fouls, and she kept the Bombers in the game until they could mount a comeback, although it looked like a blow-out for a time. Weston went to the line, hit one, and with 12 minutes left to play, Sh-Tyme had doubled the Bomber’s total, 30-15.
Having a solid game, Duka Thompson, sparked the Bomber comeback with a drive that resulted in two free throws. Tireless Reese Ganje, having already played for the 13-15 Girls team, used a tough inside game to get the score back to ten, 30- 20. With time winding down, the Lady Bombers had clawed their way back into it, and were down only 33- 29, but Sarah Hunter collected a loose ball and raced length of court for a lay-up that made it, 35-29, Sho- Tyme. That pretty much sealed the game.
Members of the winning girls’ high school team were: Miracle Spotted Bear, Paula Yellow Boy, Katerri Weston, Mia Vazquez, Janay Jumping Eagle, Sarah Hunter, Myra Parker, Bree Belt, and Keva New Holy.
Senior Janay Jumping Eagle will host a 64-team There’s Hope tournament at Little Wound High School, May 12-14, championship games to be played on Sunday.
Dakota Tar Heels 34,
Sioux Express 29
This age division, and particularly these two teams, produced the grittiest, most competitive basketball of the tournament. Coach Cole Iyotte’s Tarheels hailed from White River, meaning most of his players are well schooled veterans of Eldon Marshall’s outstanding basketball program. Nellie Long’s Sioux Express, although mostly from Pine Ridge, had kids other places as well, and if she could get her charges all playing on the same page, the Express had the horses to beat anybody.
The Tar Heels won their opening game handily, and then crossed over to the next court and had to immediately take on the Sioux Express in their opening game. This was at the start of the tournament, so legs were fresh. With 29 seconds left to play the score was 42-40, Tar Heels, and Long told her charges, “Get a man right away everyone, you should be manned up.” Having the lead, all the Tar Heels wanted to do was sit on the ball and kill the clock, and this meant they had to be fouled, which made sense for the Express, given the Tar Heels were a long way from the bonus. Tyson Iyotte went to the line and missed his 1-and-1, Tiron Sazue rebounded for the Express, but Caylen Clairmont picked him clean. Clairmont lost the ball and Darryl No Neck of the Express saved it at the last second, whipping it back into play, but unfortunately it went to Iyotte and they were forced to foul him with 13 seconds left.
Iyotte hit the first three throw, 43- 40, and although he missed the second, teammate Corey Blacksmith got the offensive rebound, passed the ball to Tyler Valandra, and then Valandra was fouled with 7 seconds to play. He hit both free throws, and White River prevailed, 45-40.
Long told her charges after the game they had to toughen up on defense, and on offense: “You didn’t play any inside game at all, you all want to be three-point shooters.”
Coach Iyotte said: “We got the free throws we had to have, we played tough, we finish.”
Sioux Express would have to battle back through the loser’s bracket, and even there nothing was easy for Long. Her coaching won one game outright, when she realized the Game Changers had a 16-year-old on their team. The game was halted five minutes in, and Sioux Express awarded the win by forfeit.
This helped save the legs of her team, and eventually they were back on the floor for the championship game against still unbeaten Dakota Tar Heels. Sioux Express had used their talent to fight their way back, but Long said, “We’re still not playing any defense, and we’re forcing shots.”
The athletic Isaiah Sorace drew first blood for the Tar Heels with a steal and a lay-up. No Neck then stole the ball for the Express, and when his shot clanked, post-up Tiron Sazue was there for the put-back and it was 2-2. After Tyson Iyotte missed two free throws, the Express responded with a scoring spree. Mankato Lebeaux drained a three, Jayden Vermillion stole the ball, fed it to No Neck and he laid it in, the Express led 7-2.
Sorace would score on a cat quick baseline reverse lay-up, and then he would scoop up a loose ball, zip down court, and put in another lay-up, tying the score 8-8, with 6:45 left in the first half. The game would remain essentially tied, until Iyotte scored a put-back, was fouled and made the free throw, giving the Tar Heels the lead, 18-15. The Express responded with some great team play, Sazue to No Neck to Jai Knight for the bucket. Sazue then turned a turnover into a bucket, and was fouled, made the free throw, and with 11.4 seconds remaining in the half, the Express finally had the lead, 20-18. This is where fate intervened. Sorace took a three point shot from the deep corner and missed, and the players began to head for the bench for their halftime break, but a late whistle brought Sorace back to the line for three free throws. He made all three, Tar Heels up after one half, 21-20.
Long realized that the Tar Heels could not stop Sazue once he got the ball in the paint. He would either score, or draw a foul. Her frustration was her team wasn’t getting the ball inside to Sazue. They attempted to do just that at the start of the second half. Time and again they got the ball to Sazue but despite slicing deep into heavy traffic he could not draw a foul and did not hit a bucket. Even so, the score was tied up 23-all, because the Express had finally played some great defense, holding the Tar Heels scoreless for over four minutes. Sazue finally did hit a free throw, and put the Express up 24- 23.
After Sazue made yet another free throw, for a 25-23 lead, the referee and Coach Iyotte had a war of words over a previous call, and Long saw her charges were distracted by the confrontation.
“Mankato calm down,” she said to her point guard. “That don’t concern us!”
But Tyler Valandra seized that moment and scored for the Tar Heels, tying it up 25- all. For the next three minutes there was a lot of frenzied action with little scoring, until Clairmont scored, went to the line, and the Tar Heels were ahead 30- 27. Sazue got inside, drew a foul, made the free throws, and it was 30-29. Clairmont, however, was not done. With 2:09 left to play he went to the line and made both attempts, Tar Heels ahead, 32- 29, and then after the Tar Heels applied a full court press, he stole the ball from Sazue, and fed it to Iyotte, who went to the line and added another point, 33-29.
Sioux Express decided to apply some pressure of their own and No Neck forced a travel out of Iyotte, and then Lebeaux cut into the paint, and left a seemingly certain layup teetering on the rim. The ball could have fallen either way, and it chose to fall out rather than in. The Tar Heels snatched the rebound and Lebeaux was forced to foul with 22.4 seconds remaining. Like the first game, this game ended with repeated fouling to stop the clock, Tar Heels prevailing, 34-29.
Afterwards Long explained to her team: “You guys start worrying about everything else, that takes you down every time. All you have to do is show up and play.”
Iyotte chalked his win up to: “Experience, man. We put a full court press on them in the end that they didn’t handle well. To be honest, I didn’t even call that press, somebody else did. Hey, you guys, who called that press?”
The answer came back “Tyson,” so father and son shared coaching kudos on this one.
Since both teams supplied the tournament with such entertaining basketball, here are both rosters. Dakota Tar Heels: Isaiah Sorace, Tyler Wright, Jaylen Bear Robe, Tyler Valandra, Tyson Iyotte, Corey Blacksmith and Caylen Clairmont, who probably would have won game MVP had it been awarded. Sioux Express: Jayden Vermillion, Daryl No Neck, Jai Knight, Chase Shot With Arrow, Andrew Poingee, Tiron Sazue, Carlos Plenty Arrows and Mankato Lebeaux.
Girls on Fire 7,
Native Fire 6
Just like the Boys, the Girls 13-15 supplied the best basketball of the tournament. Earlier in the tournament, Girls on Fire beat Native Fire by one point. Native Fire fought their way back through the loser’s bracket and earned the championship rematch with Girls on Fire.
Coach Donnie LeBeau’s Girls on Fire are mostly 13-year-olds with a couple 14-year-olds. Native Fire, coached by Diana Lessert, has some big, strong varsity level players, like Reese Ganje, who is as tough as they come in the paint. If you could not see the score and just went by what you saw on court, you would have thought Native Fire way ahead, but Lebeau’s charges are quick shooters who can drive the paint and hustle hard after loose balls. They find a way to keep a score close, and then they find a way to close it out. These two teams would play three games, decided by a total of four points.
Native Fire won the championship game 37-35, but since both teams still had only one loss in a double elimination tournament, they had to play one more 5- minute game to decide the championship.
Raina Ghost Bear gave Girls on Fire a 2-0 lead in the five-minute game. Zoe Long Soldier responded with an inside bucket to make it 2-2. After exchanging a couple of turnovers, Ganje got inside and made it 4-2, Native Fire. Tobi Carlow knifed into the paint and tied it up 4-4. After Shayonna Waters was called for a travel, Lessert urged her players to “slow it down with the passes.” Before they could act on that advice, Ganje got back under the basket and put in a lay-up to give Native Pride the lead, 6-4.
The Girls on Fire roster: Maikole Carlow, Tobi Carlow, Angelina Lebeau, Jewelia Lebeau, Allie Richards, Raina Ghost Bear, Shyleigh Richard and Shayonna Waters.
Native Fire roster: Kaylee Lessert, Kenya Merrival, Zoe Long Soldier, Haylee Landreau, Reese Ganje, Audrey Drapeau and Rozee Drapeau.
Girls on Fire appeared to be in big trouble, there was only 1:48 left to play and they turned the ball back over to Native Fire. Carlow then made the play of the game, stealing the ball and feeding it back to Waters. Waters made up for her earlier mistake by making one of two free throws, and Native Pride now led by only one, 6-5. With 55 seconds left Haylee Langreau lost the handle on the basketball, Carlow scooped it up and raced to the bucket to put Girls on Fire up, 7-6. That would be the final score. That one play was literarily the only difference between these two teams.
LeBeau described his team: “They are fast paced and they have no quit, whether they are down 10-20 points. They have been playing together since the Second and Third Grade, they just know where each other is going to be.”
The Rain-in-the-Face inaugural tournament showcased that the most entertaining basketball played in West River might be the club basketball played over the spring and summer.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)