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Native Sun News Today: Three reservation teams head to basketball finals in South Dakota

Pine Ridge, Red Cloud and Crow Creek boys headed for state

Round of 16 proving a good thing for West River
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

WINNER—Bad weather forced last Tuesday’s Round of 16 Class A play-off games to Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, Crow Creek hung on against Parker at the Mitchell Corn Palace, 53-50, to advance to the Class A Boys Tournament, March 15-18, at Rapid City. They will play Tea Area in the 1:45 pm game. Pine Ridge came from behind to defeat Dell Rapids, 69-66, and Red Cloud romped over Miller, 79-55, both games held at the Winner Armory last Thursday, and both teams also advanced to the State A in Rapid City.

Before the Round of 16, Pine Ridge and Red Cloud would have had to bump the other off in order to get out of Region 7A, but the new format has made it possible for three of the eight teams at state to be from a reservation.

Thorpes overcome early Dell Rapids barrage

“I had no idea the big guy could shoot,” Pine Ridge power forward Corey Brown said, referring to Dell Rapid’s strapping 6-9 center, Logan Heim. “I thought he was just in there to rebound and defend.”

Heim did rebound and defend, but left alone beyond the arc, he also hit three consecutive threes in the first two minutes of the game. Dell Rapids led 29-16 after one quarter, dominating both ends of the floor, and the Thorpes were reeling, but the Quarriers could never add to that 13-point lead. Even when playing poorly as a team, individual effort, mostly from junior point guard Halin Bad Bear, kept the Thorpes within striking distance. Bad Bear repeatedly created his own shot, by probing the arc for an opening, and then driving to the bucket, or just launching a critical three.

Pine Ridge started to find themselves in the second quarter. They outscored Dell Rapids 17-11, finally coming to life in their man-to-man defense, and forcing some turnovers. They were down only 40-33 at the half.

Pine Ridge is a second half team, and Bad Bear sent a clear message to Dell Rapids this game would be no different, as he drained a three to open the third, making it 40-35. The two teams then slugged it out for about seven minutes, the Thorpes scratching and clawing at the five-point lead, until a beautiful spinning move in the paint by Brown befuddled Dell Rapid’s excellent defender, 6-5 Jeffrey Schuch, and the score was all knotted up, 49-49, with 1:45 left to play in the third.

Not many reservation ball clubs play with discipline. They play with heart.

“Coach has always told us to play with heart,” Brown said after the win. “Always encouraged us to never give up.”

It was an especially emotional moment for Brown, who could not keep the tears from his eyes. He had lost his older brother, a former Thorpe, just a couple months before, and the loss was fresh on his mind: “We went into the locker room (at halftime), and I prayed, I talked to my brother. I prayed for him. I didn’t want to go home, I didn’t want to lose.”

There is no player more unique in the state than Brown. His dexterity and agility in the paint is second-to-none, and his signature extreme hairdos make him the easy to spot on any arena floor. When he is right, when he is determined, the combination of Brown, Juwon Garnier and Corey Blacksmith in the paint can counter East River 2-3 zone extremely effectively. When Joe O’Rourke, Bad Bear and Garnier are also hitting from the outside, the other team can get caught between a rock and a hard place, which is what happened to the Quarriers.

O’Rourke was unavailable much of the year due to academic ineligibility, but now that he is back, he is a dangerous weapon for Pine Ridge. Shangreaux: “Joe O’Rourke, he’s the cutter, the slasher, the long and lengthy defender.”

Russell Leader Charge of Red Cloud Indian School. Photo by James Giago Davies
Corey Brown from Pine Ridge High School. Photo by James Giago Davies

Once the Thorpes tied it up at 49-all, the loudspeaker should have just played an ominous death dirge, because there was nothing that could have held back the Pine Ridge onslaught. But the Thorpes did not take the lead for good, until Brown missed inside, and O’Rourke converted a sensational tip-in, Pine Ridge on top, 63-61, with 1:42 left to play. Drew Van Regenmorter missed a three for Dell Rapids, there was a loose ball, Carson Rentz recovered for Dell Rapids, he got the ball into Schuch, and Brown fouled him. Schuch missed both free throws, and Blacksmith snagged the rebound. That’s when Pine Ridge Head Coach Corey Shangreaux called time-out with 41.3 seconds to play, and then called the play that pretty much sealed the victory for the Thorpes.

“We’re a tough second half team,” Shangreaux said. “We’re all adrenaline, but as soon as that adrenaline runs out, then we can play.”

The smart play was a deep pass to Blacksmith, forcing Dell Rapids to foul. The head official was Dave Burnett, probably the best referee in the state, and so a reasonable number of fouls had been called on both teams, and Pine Ridge needed fouls to reach the bonus. That was the first one, which made six, just one from the bonus; two seconds later Van Regenmorter fouled Garnier. Garnier missed the foul shot but Blacksmith seized the offensive rebound, forcing Heim to foul him. Blacksmith made both free throws, Pine Ridge on top, 65-61. Rentz was then fouled attempting a three. He made all three free throws for Dell Rapids, 65-64, Pine Ridge, 21.0 seconds left. It should have been a nail biter, but you did not get the feeling Pine Ridge could lose.

Eddie Price was forced to foul Bad Bear, and when he hit both free throws, Pine Ridge led, 67-64. Dell Rapids brought the ball up court, worked hard to get Mason Schmidt wide open, but he launched an air ball, and Blacksmith rebounded, and was promptly fouled by Van Regenmorter. Blacksmith hit both free throws, and then Rentz got off one last bucket, and it was over, 69-66.

Schuch led Dell Rapids with 21 points, Schmidt had 17, and Heim had 12, on four threes. Heim also had 15 rebounds, although he never scored a bucket in the paint. Bad Bear led all scorers with 26, and Brown chipped in 18.

On March 15, at Rapid City, Pine Ridge will take on #2 seed Madison in the 6 pm game.


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Red Cloud running game buries Miller

If a rez ball team starts on fire, and they stay on fire, and you are an East River half-court opponent, you are in big trouble. They will run you off the court, and that is exactly what Christian McGhee’s #13 seed Red Cloud Crusaders did to the #4 seed Miller Rustlers.

The Rustlers were a much better team than the score indicated, but they got hit hard and hit early, and they staggered punch-drunk through the rest of the game. The Crusaders never surrendered the control, or the momentum, and the only reason the score was as close as 79-55, was McGhee stuck in his JV to give them floor time before state.

The Miller radio announcers marveled at the speed and athleticism of high-flying book-ends, Ali Rama and Russell Leader Charge. Both scored 21 points and had 14 rebounds between them.

“We just wanted to press the guards and keep their big guys off the glass,” McGhee said. “We figured, with our bench, we could run on them, and that we’d control the game.”

Ever since the come-from-behind victory over Class AA Sturgis, Red Cloud has been playing with exceptional heart and confidence. Like their crosstown rivals, Pine Ridge, Mahpiya Luta lacks discipline, but McGhee has found a way to inspire these boys, and instill a determination, and every player is amped up to play his role and bolster the team effort.

Role players like Riyen Carlow, Jesse Jensen, and Jeremiah Whalen aren’t really role players, but focused in the thick of things. Manny Yellow Horse and Louie Her Many Horses will still be needed to grab some rebounds at state. Even in the rout of the Rustlers, they did not have many rebounds.

Red-faced, frustrated and exhausted, the Rustlers did what they could to stem the Red Cloud tide. They have some good players, two 6-4 forwards, Karst Hunter and Steven Fernholz, and a steady 6-5 center in Hunter Russell. But these players don’t see much rez ball East River, which doesn’t matter if the rez team is not hitting their shots and is being battered by ref whistles, two things that did not happen in Winner.

McGhee can’t wait for state to get started: “I’m so happy for Crow Creek and Pine Ridge. It’s awesome, three Native teams…it’s gonna be like LNI.”

James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at