Herders lay in pair of wins to start 2018

While it wasn’t too pretty how the Herders got here, a pair of wins to start the new year does look nice, nonetheless. With a win at then-No. 7 Joliet on Jan. 5, the now-No. 8 Sweet Grass County boys’ basketball team topped upset-minded Jefferson on Jan. 6 to win the first two games of the year in a 52-47 decision. 

Despite having Casey Gunlikson and Jacob Roberts co-lead the Herders with 11 points each, scoring was well distributed among the team, with Blake Finn and Kell Schwers also nabbing 10 points apiece. 

Jefferson’s Josh Eckmann nearly tallied a triple-double, tallying 16 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the loss for the Panthers (2-6, 1-3 District 5). 

SGHS head coach Dan Smart said Jefferson took away parts of the Herders’ game plan, however, they still remained successful at other facets of the offensive end. 

“Hopefully what happens, and we started it in the Whitehall game, is we want to work our two big guys inside. We want to work inside-out,” Smart said. “And that’s going to spread things out; our bigs are going to get more touches. Hopefully, they score more.”

Of the Herders’ 52 points, 17 came from the two big men: Ethan Bullock and Roberts. Overall, the Herders (6-2, 3-1 District 5) found 22 points in the paint. But despite a lull in inside production, the Herders still found a way to grind out a close win. 

The slow start put SGHS in an early hole. But a 3-pointer by Schwers, followed by a three-point-play the old fashioned way, helped the Herders climb back to 20-17 deficit in the final 70 seconds of the first half. But the Panthers found a way to take a 24-17 lead at the break. 

An 11-1 run carried over from the first half pushed the Herders’ lead to 28-25 at one point, and then again at 39-32 with less than five minutes remaining. 

The key to the second win of 2018 came at the free-throw line. Finn, who ranks third in the district at the line with a 78.03 percent mark, hit two free throws with 20.4 seconds remaining to give the Herders a 50-46 lead. Gunlikson forced a turnover at mid court, and after a pair of technical fouls — one for each squad after a scrum for the ball — the Herders remained ahead 52-47. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.

PHOTO CAPTION: Casey Gunlikson converts a fastbreak layup into points for the Herders off a turnover, during a game against Jefferson on Jan. 6. The Herders are ranked No. 8 in the latest 406mtsports.com poll and are off to a 2-0 start in 2018. (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Big Timber Pioneer)




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