RAPID CITY—Those savvy about high school basketball know that it takes a supreme effort to prevail at the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI), and the Girls champion Red Cloud Lady Crusaders, and the Boys champion Rapid City Christian Comets, continue to prove just that, as they both sport spotless records.
Head Coach Matt Rama’s over-achievers are 11-0, having just eked out a single bucket win over Class AA Spearfish, 49-47. Although each Red Cloud player can ball individually, they are the epitome of a team greater than the sum of its parts. They battle down to the wire, and do not leave the floor denying fans their best effort. Their next two opponents are Douglas and Lead-Deadwood, both currently with only one win apiece, and so the Lady Crusaders figure to be 13-0 by week’s end. On January 31, they host 7-2 Belle Fourche, and this will be their first truly challenging post-LNI test. After a crosstown bus ride to 3-4 Pine Ridge, they then drive up to Rapid City and tackle 10-2 St Thomas More, and four days after that, they take on 9-2 RC Christian, and then 7-5 Hot Springs. Come playoff time, whether they remain unbeaten, the Lady Crusaders will definitely be battle tested, as there is little an East River team can show them that they did not see from Belle, STM and Christian.
The Rapid City Christian Boys are also 11-0, and they should be 12-0 after hosting Custer on Tuesday last. That sets up a big showdown with 11-1, St Thomas More on Friday night at STM. The Cavaliers spoiled the battle of the unbeaten by losing in their last outing, 51-46, to Winner.
Last Friday night, Christian went down to Wolf Creek to challenge a 6-5 Lakota Tech squad which, after a shaky start, is playing some spirited ball at present. The Comets went right after Tech, the first seven points of the ball game being scored by Christian’s smooth and efficient 6-4 sophomore center, Julius Frog. The first quarter ended with the Comets up, 24-6. Tech would rebound in the third, outscoring Christian by seven, and narrowing the margin to, 51-40. The comeback was sparked by the play of Kendrell Cuevas, Jordan Whirlwind Horse and Jamiah Bianis. It continued into the final quarter, as time outs from Christian Head Coach Kyle Courtney were all that slowed down the Tech steamroll comeback.
With about a minute remaining, freshman Dominic Ghost Bear drained a three, which brought Tech to within a single bucket, 54-52. Reeling from the barrage, the Comets brought the ball back up court cautiously and with 53.6 left in the game, sophomore guard Simon Kieffer suddenly took charge, and drove into traffic, drawing a foul. The Tech faithful greeted his approach to the charity stripe with thunderous ankle stomping against the bleachers. Undeterred, Kieffer swished both free throws. Tech Head Coach Corey Shangreaux called a time out. Whatever he told his troops, worked, because Marvin Richard III came out and hit a huge three, to make it 56-55, Christian.
With time running out Richard had no choice but to foul Simon Kieffer and Kieffer went back to the line, again to Tech faithful thunder, and calmly sank two more three throws, to make it 58-55, with 10.9 seconds to play. Shangreaux called another time out. Most fans knew the ball would go back to Richard, and it did. Benson Kieffer had been tasked with guarding Richard, making sure he never got off that big three, but Richard sped past him deep into Comet territory, going up for the three with no hesitation, Kieffer caught up and swiped his arm at the last second to draw the foul and ruin the shot. Because Tech was not in the bonus, the ball had to be inbounded.
The final shot was forced and fell shy and Christian prevailed, 58-55.
“I’m obviously happy with us finding a way to win,” Courtney said. “To be honest with you, I think it was a game that is going to help us out down the road, because it put us in a pretty tough situation, of our own doing—I think it showed a little bit of our youth, and we have to have better decision making. But it also showed a lot about Lakota Tech, what they were capable of, I mean, they didn’t shoot it well the first half, we played well, it’s kind of a tale of two halves. Lakota Tech really came out got the home crowd behind them and played great basketball. They’ve got some guys that can make plays. We made just enough plays down the stretch, just barely enough, and we’ve got a lot to be learned.”
Courtney cited the gritty physicality of the Tech guards for giving Christian so much trouble in the fourth quarter, where Tech outscored Christian, 15-7: “I thought we didn’t respond well to the physicality; they responded better than we did.”
“We came out rough the second half,” Frog said. “But it felt great to pull it out. We toughed it out because we weren’t hitting shots. Shots were not falling, I knew I wasn’t hitting shots, so my plan for the second half was just rebound.”
“They didn’t miss anything the first half, Rapid City Christian,’ Shangreaux said. “Even the half court went in (drained right at the half time buzzer by Benson Kieffer).”
Shangreuax said he was proud of Tech’s defensive effort in the second half. His second half adjustments consisted of “getting more physical. It seemed like they were bumping us, and we were kinda off balance.”
One wonders what would have happened had Tech not started out missing so many shots. Tech has the talent and the game to make a playoff run come March.
Julius Frog continues to impress as he led all scorers with 14 points, and all rebounders with nine. Elijah Hoyt also pulled down eight boards, as the Comets continue to rebound like a much bigger team.
CLASS A BOYS
Looking at the standings, four unbeaten teams remain on top: 9-0 SF Christian, 10-0 Dakota Valley, 11-0 RC Christian, and 10-0 Hot Springs. For whatever reason, 11-1 St Thomas More dropped to number 7, after losing to Winner, who is 9-1, and inexplicably a slot behind Clark/Willow Lake at 8-3. The standings definitely reflect an East River bias, for whatever reason, and there is a chance it is coincidence, but then it is that way every year.
CLASS AA BOYS
Only one unbeaten team, SF Jefferson, although they were given a scare by 5-5 RC Central, so the difference between the best and the worst is not as great at AA. It was a tough week for Pierre as they took three big losses, but SF Lincoln looks strong at 8-1, and at this point, it figures to be Jefferson v Lincoln come the championship game.
CLASS B BOYS
Aberdeen Christian tops this class at 10-0. De Smet is 9-2, but come playoffs, a betting man would probably put his money on De Smet. White River is fourth at 10-2, just ahead of Lower Brule at 9-3. Faith is hanging in there at 9-1.
CLASS AA GIRLS
No unbeaten teams here, but SF Washington is top rated at 8-1. SF Jefferson is second at 9-2. RC Stevens is fifth at 9-2. Spearfish is 12th at 2-6 and RC Central is 14th at 4-6. Sturgis rests at the bottom at 1-7. Stevens has the personnel to dark horse any state tournament.
CLASS A GIRLS
Four unbeaten teams atop the Class A standings: 12-0 Vermillion, 11-0 Hamlin, 11-0 Red Cloud, and 9-0 Sisseton. Even though St Thomas More is 10-2 and down in seventh place, never count Brandon Kandolin’s Girls out.
CLASS B GIRLS
Basketball is hotly contested at B Girls every season, but Viborg-Hurley tops the ratings at 11-1. Timber Lake is number four at 10-1, and Wall, number seven at 10-5. Jones County is nine, at 8-1, and White River and Faith down at 17 and 18, respectively, with five losses apiece. Class B Girls is one of the toughest titles to take home every spring and this year will be no exception.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)