RAPID CITY—On paper, it was obvious the two champion games at LNI last Saturday night were going to be epic struggles, and such turned out to be the case, although both games took odd unexpected turns. In the Girls game, Red Cloud was looking to defend their LNI title from last year, where they defeated Lakota Tech, and once again their opponent was the top seed, Lakota Tech. Red Cloud prevailed, 45-38.
In the Boys championship, White River was top seed, but unlike last year, their opponent would not be Lower Brule, the number two seed, because Kul Wicasa was upset in the semis by Rapid City Christian, playing in only their second LNI. Christian led into the second period, but White River came back, took the lead, which brought it down to 7 seconds left, all tied up, sophomore Benson Kieffer to inbound the ball for Christian. He got the ball in play and then took a pass right near the top of the key and nailed the bucket, and RC Christian were LNI champs, 79-77.
Red Cloud Head Coach, Matt Rama, knew it would not be easy to repeat as LNI champs: “We were a brand-new team, we only had Maikole (Carlow) coming back, so it was all new girls trying it for the first time, and you never know what they are going to do in this moment, they never had this moment. You see it in the first half, we were struggling, struggling to hit shots. Our defense was pretty good the whole game, but I felt like we just had to start scoring. We went to (pressing defense) because (if) we can’t score maybe we can get some easy buckets.’”
Down 13 points, Rama’s girls began to put intense defensive pressure on Laura Big Crow’s Lakota Tech squad. The “easy” buckets came, and they had to because Red Cloud was down 24-15 at the half, and the second half opened with Jodene Hunter at the line making it 26-15, and then Tech getting the ball right back and Tawny Rodriguez going length-of-court to make it, 28-15. It seemed at that point there was nothing left that Red Cloud could do to turn it around. But eight plays later Jewelia LeBeau hit a jumper to tie it up, 31-31. Three girls, LeBeau, Maikole Carlow, and Ashlan Blount constituted that charge and then with 10:02 remaining in the game, Victoria Good Buffalo went to the line, sank both free throws and Red Cloud took the lead, 33-31. Melina Shangreaux would tie it, 33-33, but then Kennedy Fridia nailed the bucket that would put Red Cloud ahead for good, 35-33.
From that point on, Red Cloud played ball control and just ate up the clock on offense, and then hampered Tech with a swarming defense. It was two entirely different halves; Red Cloud just won their half by a wider margin.
Maikole Carlow led all scorers with 14. LeBeau had 13. Anjah Lamont had six boards and Ashlan Carlow had five. Rodriguez led Tech with nine points. Shangreaux had 12 rebounds and Hunter had seven.
No doubt the RC Christian boys shocked the LNI crowd with their spectacular win. Kieffer explained his championship winning shot: “First of all, all glory to God, it is a blessing to play the game of basketball. I told Coach Kyle on that shot I was confident enough, I put enough time in the gym, so I wanted it. We drew up that I was gonna hand off and then I was gonna attack. And I did slip, but it was a blessing it went in. That shot didn’t win us the game. It might have put us ahead, but we couldn’t have had the opportunity to get that shot without our team. We have great talent, and when we work together and move the ball, we accomplish great things as shown here today. We pride ourselves in being the hardest working and the most hustling, and our coach emphasizes that over and over, and I think we showed it here today.”
“What you saw there was some heart from these kids,” RC Christian Head Coach Kyle Courtney said. “They had a will to win and Benson Kieffer he came up when I called that time out and he said, ‘Coach, give me the ball, I can hit that shot,’ and he did. But this was a team win tonight, Sam Fischer, he didn’t score a lot tonight, but he had a big putback when we needed it. Elijah Hoyt had a great game. The strength of this team is when we play as a team, we don’t worry about the personal stats, we just worry about playing for the name on the front of the jersey, playing to honor the Lord, and just going out there to win, and I think it makes a difference.”
White River came out hot, and they quickly led 6-0. But at the 11:54 mark Julius Frog’s putback put Christian ahead 7-6. The best player on the floor, maybe the best player in the state, Joe Sayler, was missing his shots left and right for White River, although he would go on to be the game’s leading scorer. Christian went into the locker room at half, up, 35-29.
In the second half, Sayler finally found himself and led a White River charge, along with teammate Nicolas Marshall, that culminated at the 8:47 left to play mark, with White River pulling ahead, 55-49, and it looked like Christian’s championship run was over. Not the case.
Frog started the comeback with a drive and ended it with a three-pointer that put Christian on top, 60-59. White River’s last lead came on a drive by Sayler, 67-65. From there they battled back and forth until Sayler went to the line for two shots, and a chance to go ahead but hit only one to tie it up, 77-77. Frog snagged the missed free throw and Elijah Hoyt, who would be named the top defensive player, quickly gave the time out sign with 6.8 seconds remaining, which was changed to 7 seconds.
That was when Kieffer came out of the huddle and worked his last second magic to help Christian take home the championship trophy.
In the semi-final against Lakota Tech, TJ Beardt had been a huge factor in the White River win, dominating with short jumpers. That did not happen against Christian.
Courtney: “We put Julius Frog on him and Julius did a really nice job of containing him. We wanted to keep him from getting loose in the paint and playing off Sayler’s drives. We would rather have him shoot the three-point shot, but didn’t want anything easy from 15 feet in. Beardt did a great job against Lakota Tech and we knew he was a dangerous player. So credit Julius with great defense.””
LNI got the scoring wrong. They have Kieffer with 28 points and Frog with 19, but Courtney confirms Kieffer had 22 points and Frog had 23. Sayler had 29 points, Marshall had 26. Frog had three boards and Beardt had four.
RC Christian has not had an easy schedule up to this point, beating Red Cloud, Lower Brule and White River, consecutively. Down the road they will meet Lakota Tech and Red Cloud again but the big game for them is January 27 on the road against St Thomas More, a team that has dominated their program for many years. If any Christian team has a chance of upsetting that apple cart it would be this one.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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