By Jackson Wagner
On a night when Anaconda’s all-time leading scorer Braxton Hill gave absolutely everything he could, the Copperheads still couldn’t match the offensive output of the Lodge Grass Indians, dropping the opener in Missoula at the State B tournament 72-66.
Hill, a future Grizzly football player, finished the night with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven steals. He had 19 points and four steals in the second half alone, leading Anaconda on a comeback that came up just a few possessions short.
“You see how hard he plays,” Anaconda coach, and Braxton’s father, Bill Hill said. “He plays as hard as you can play the game and he doesn’t give up until that horn goes off.”
The Copperheads faced a deficit early on after Lodge Grass opened the game on fire from beyond the arc. The Indians hit six of their first eight three point attempts and scored 27 points in the opening period.
Anaconda responded well in the second quarter, slowing down the pace and allowing only 13 points. Still, the easy shots weren’t falling for the Copperheads, who attempted almost half the amount of shots as Lodge Grass in the first half.
The Copperheads were saved at the free throw line, where they knocked down 12-of-16 in the first half to keep it a single-digit game at 40-31.
Pressure forced Lodge Grass into turnovers, giving Anaconda some easy baskets in the third quarter. After the Indians scored the first basket of the second half, Anaconda went on a 12-0 run, capped off by a Hill layup, to take their first, and only, lead of the game at 43-42.
Elijah Rogers answered that with an open three on the other end, which summarized the problems for Anaconda all night long. The Indians finished the game with 11 three pointers compared to just two for the Copperheads.
“We didn’t give up many transition shots but the three-point shooting is what won the game for them,” Hill said. “We just made too many mistakes and a couple young kids didn’t step up.”
The Copperheads fell behind by double-digits again early in the third quarter. After a basket cut the lead to eight with five minutes to play, Trent Mikalatos found Zeke Buck on the breakaway for a wide-open dunk attempt.
The dunk rattled out and Buck received a technical for hanging on the rim. The Indians made one of two free throws and then scored on the ensuing possession. A three on their next possession stretched the lead to 14 with four and a half minutes to play.
Hill took over the game down the stretch, forcing multiple turnovers and getting to the basket with ease. Anaconda, trailing by nine with under a minute to play, cut the lead to just two points with eight seconds remaining.
But Hill, who had four fouls, was whistled for an intentional foul with just one second remaining, giving the Indians two free throws and the ball. They made both free throws, and after a technical foul by Mikalatos went back to the line for two more, which were also good.
“How we did as well as we did I don’t know. We didn’t play very well and we missed a lot of easy shots,” Hill said. “Our pressure was really good at the end, but it wasn’t enough.”
Hill led the Copperheads with 34 points, followed by Mikalatos with 16. The Copperheads made just two three pointers, one from Hill and one from freshman Braedon Sawyer, and didn’t have anyone else reach double figures.
Mylon Blacksmith, who connected on his first four three pointers, led Lodge Grass with 27 points. Elijah Rogers also reached double-figures for the Indians, who forced Anaconda into 19 turnovers and outshot the Copperheads 67-48.
“I can’t blame the loss on any one thing we just made too many little mistakes to win the game,” Hill said. “I thought we had to score 60 to win the game and hold them in the low 50s, but we gave up too many points. I knew they were going to shoot the three, it wasn’t anything knew, we just didn’t get out on them.”
(more to come)