Cowboys, Cowgirls win games at Divisionals, but fail to advance to state tourney

The Custer County District High School Cowboys and Cowgirls finished their 2016-2017 basketball season in Billings, with both teams grabbing wins in the Eastern/Central A Super-Divisional but failing to secure spots in the State A tournament.


Cowgirls go 1-2

The Cowgirls opened their divisional play on Wednesday with a loss to Central A champs Havre, who used a 19-2 scoring advantage in the third quarter to take a 61-39 victory.

The loss left the Cowgirls gameless on Thursday.

“It’s tough not to play every day,” said Cowgirls head coach Aaron Essex. “The last thing you want to do is sit around with a loss.”

The Cowgirls rallied, however, and in the loser-out game took the Browning Lady Indians 63-48 behind a season-high 24 points from junior guard Ashley Venable.

 The Cowgirls led 30-12 at the half, but Browning made some noise in the third, outscoring the Cowgirls 23-14 in the quarter and threatening within five points.

Venable, despite Essex’s preference to eat some time off the clock, drove the lane and hit the outside three-pointers in the fourth, sealing the Cowgirls’ win.

“She’s going to be the death of me before she graduates,” Essex joked about her taking the ball —  literally — into her own hands, “but that’s all right.”

Junior post player Kaelei Koenig added 14 points for the Cowgirls’ cause.

Still in the win-or-go-home bracket, the Cowgirls faced the Lady Panthers of Belgrade in the game where the winner would hit the consolation final and earn a berth at the state tournament.

Senior Jenna Swope banked a season-high 17 points and sophomore guard Kyra Oakland recorded 15 and the Cowgirls kept the score close, but it was Belgrade who came out on top 71-63, sending sole squad senior Swope and the rest of the Cowgirls home.

Belgrade went on to win the consolation game 48-40 against Laurel, and Hardin handled Havre 50-39 in the championship round. All four teams earn a spot in the State A tourney in Butte.  

Ashley Venable led the Cowgirls’ overall divisional scoring with 42, followed by Kaelei Koenig with 34, Kyra Oakland with 31, and Jenna Swope with 25.


Cowboys finish 2-2

The Cowboys snatched their first win — a must for continued play in the tournament — on Wednesday, hitting the Havre Blue Ponies 66-59 in overtime. The Cowboys doubled up Havre 14-7 in extra time behind juniors Gabe Gundlach and Kaden Stradley and sophomore Clay Prell’s combined 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 18 seconds.

Gundlach hit a season-high 30 points, sophomore Steven Ray put in 12, and senior Tyler Burk added 11.

On Thursday, the Cowboys sent the Park High Rangers of Livingston into the losers’ bracket with a 44-36 win despite a third quarter that saw both teams hit just a combined 12 points.

The Cowboys were up 30-22 at the end of the third quarter, but Burk earned a technical foul late in the fourth. Park’s Jakim Ricketts hit both foul shots, bringing the Rangers within two points.

The Cowboys then answered with their own 8-for-8 from the foul line while Park failed to hit another field goal in the game.

The win sent the Cowboys to the locker room for a few short hours of rest before facing Laurel in the quarterfinals for their second game of the day.

The Cowboys took a 22-16 lead into half, but Laurel showed up after the break, doubling up the Cowboys 20-10 in the third, taking the lead for the first time 36-32. The Cowboys never recovered and took their first loss 45-39.

Gundlach recorded 16 points and Burk 14 in the loss.

The Cowboys faced Eastern A rival Billings Central on Friday in a loser-out matchup — winner heading to the consolation game — and fell 57-35 to the Rams, whose Peyton Hanser took advantage of the Cowboys’ smaller size with four dunks.

BC jumped on top of the Cowboys 29-14 at the half, though the Cowboys managed a 14-9 advantage after the break. That third-quarter burst of offense wasn’t enough for head coach Houston Finn’s Cowboys, as the Rams took a 19-7 fourth-quarter advantage for the win.

Gundlach dug deep for 17 points and Burk, in his final game as a Cowboy, added 11. Kaden Stradley scored five points, and senior Kelly Irion added two points.

Billings Central went on to defeat Hardin 45-30 for third place, and Laurel defeated Belgrade 64-50 for divisional honors, meaning three of the four teams to move on to state are from the Eastern A conference.

In his last tournament for the blue and gold, senior Tyler Burk recorded 47 points with all four games in the double digits, and in the Cowboys-coming-back-next-year category, junior Gabe Gundlach hit 71 combined points, junior Kaden Stradley 21, and sophomore Steven Ray 24.