HILL CITY— While all but three reservation schools have shut down their basketball programs because of COVID-19, many area schools have Lakota players on their
rosters the media tends to overlook. These schools in general get little coverage for any of their programs from any media outlet, and one of these schools is New Underwood. The Class B Tigers took both their Girls and Boys teams up to Hill City Thursday night, and gave the Class A Rangers all they could handle, winning the Boys game, 50-30, courtesy of a balanced attack based on team hustle. New Underwood gave it their all in the Girls game as well, but missed key second half buckets and the Lady Rangers held them off, 40-29.
The Lady Tigers have been enjoying some good seasons of late, under former coach Stacy Finkbeiner. Dallas Richter is now the head coach for the Lady Tigers, and he had them off to a 2-0 start. The top player for the Girls team is senior Cerington Jones, a 6-0 power forward with the superior athleticism to play point guard. She has plenty of help from three Lakota ballplayers: 6-1 senior Avery Heinert, and two junior guards, 5-6 Mikala Olic, and 5-9 Holliday Thornton, a smooth ball handler and excellent three-point threat.
There was a lot of racing up and down the court in the opening period, but little scoring. It ended with Hill City holding a 5-2 lead. Scoring would pick up slightly in the second, and Thornton tied the game up 5-5 with a three. Hailey Wathen put the Lady Rangers up 7-5 before senior Chloe Miller responded with a bucket, making it 7-7. Whitney Edwards, a strong 5-10 post, netted a short hook in the paint to give Hill City a 9-7 lead, and it was at that point, with 5:50 left in the first half that Miller drained a three to give New Underwood their first and only lead in the game, 10-9. That was a wake up call for Hill City and they imposed themselves in the paint, rattling off seven straight points to lead, 16-10. Heinert left the post to hit a three pointer, to narrow the gap to 16-13, Hill City. Edwards ended the second half with an inside bucket, and the Lady Rangers went into the locker room up, 18-13.
While New Underwood had displayed plenty of hustle, and had plenty of opportunities, key buckets just did not drop, and although neither team was scoring much, the inside consistency of Edwards spelled the difference in the first half.
Like the first quarter, scoring was sparse in the third. With Hill City up, 24-18, Heinert kissed a lay-up off the glass, and then Jones went length of court and was fouled. When she hit the bonus, New Underwood trailed by only 24-23. That would be the high water mark for the Lady Tigers, however. On the next play, 6-2 senior Maggie Taylor scored from under the basket, to make it 26-23, and the Lady Rangers never looked back.
All through the game it seemed Jones would cut loose with her speed and athleticism but she could never quite maintain her rhythm. She ended the game with 8 points and 6 rebounds. Heinert led the team with 10 points, and she also had 6 rebounds.
Hill City Lady Rangers (1-1) 5 13 11 11 – 40
New Underwood Tigers (2-1) 2 11 10 6 – 29
Tigers outhustle Rangers for Boys victory
“Whenever you play a class above you,” New Underwood Boys Head Coach Matt Koch said Thursday night, “they always have more resources, more kids, so it’s always a challenge.”
Koch’s hustling Tigers were up to that challenge, defeating the host Rangers, 50-30. No single player on the team had a standout performance, as they all seemed to flow like one wave of motion up and down the court, each stepping up whenever they were called on to deliver something for the rest. Every coach wants a team of hustlers like this one, so the question becomes, are they coached to be hustlers or are they naturally that way?
“We had seven seniors last year so these guys had collectively one game of varsity experience,” Koch said. “They had to work their butts off in practice the past couple of years just to get some playing time. So, we don’t have a whole lot of game experience, but we have a whole lot of hustle experience on our team.”
Two players stand out for their hustle: 5-8 junior guard, Garrett Medley, and 6-0 freshman floor general, Linkin Ballard. Medley co-led all scorers with 13 (Cash Albers also had 13), Ballard added 7. At one point an inadvertent elbow to the ear from Hill City’s scrappy senior guard Grant Sullivan forced Medley to the bench, but he couldn’t be kept there.
“(Medley) really works his tail off for us,” Koch said. “He really loves basketball and he wants to be on the floor the whole time. He was mad about having to come out.”
Ballard doesn’t look like a great athlete, but he is one of those players that has a natural feel for the game, and the epitome of the kind of player that can score without the ball by doing a dozen different little things that help his team.
“(Ballard) is really our quarterback,” Koch said. “He’s level headed and can kind of guide us when things are going wrong. When things are going right he can find the open man, find the hot hand, and keep us going.”
Hurting and hobbled for much of the second half, Ballard remained on the floor, putting a stopper in any Hill City comeback plans. The first quarter had been highly competitive, ending with New Underwood up, 13-10. The second quarter is where things turned. Husky Grant Madsen, a 6-0 senior who plays like a much bigger man, sparked the Tigers in a spurt that gave them a 28-14 lead at the half. Madsen would have 8 points on the night.
The first three minutes of the third quarter tacked on ten points to the New Underwood score, while Hill City scored nothing.
“What we really worked on hard, and it paid off for us today, was our defense,” Koch said. “That’s what we practiced pretty much ninety percent of the time this week. We need to stay on the ground, not going for things we don’t have a chance for, and get fouls. We have to stay disciplined.”
That they especially did in the third quarter, closing it out with a 41-19 lead. Although the Rangers never gave up, Sullivan and 6-1 forward Willy Walther were the only players willing to match the New Underwood hustle. The Rangers are now 0-2 and have lost each game by about 20. Their schedule looks accommodating though until January 16, when Lakota Tech comes to town. By then they should have at least two wins under their belt over Newell and Edgemont.
One thing that Koch brought up was New Underwood’s loss to Dupree, 51-54. Dupree has been bolstered by players from the other Cheyenne River Reservation schools who are not playing basketball because of COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions. Although within the boundaries of the reservation, Dupree is a White township and so their team loaded up with talent: like Cheyenne-Eagle Butte’s Spencer Moran and Red Cloud’s Jhett Knight. While New Underwood is happy not to have to play the likes of Oelrichs and Crazy Horse to navigate the play-offs, teams like Dupree are the flipside of that COVID altered coin, and they will hand teams like New Underwood some hard losses, and make a lot of positive noise in the play-offs.
Hill City Rangers (0-2) 10 4 5 11 – 30
New Underwood Tigers (2-1) 13 15 13 9 – 50
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)