Monday, March 20, 2023

Vikings heading back to state tourney after downing Mission in challenge game

For the Eagle | March 6, 2023 10:20 AM

With the score knotted at 47-all and their season hanging in the balance, the Vikings turned to senior Isak Epperly with 12.1 seconds remaining in a win-or-go-home game against Mission in Ronan Monday evening.

In his typical calm-and-collected manor, Epperly received the ball in the post and made his move. A pump fake, then spin to the baseline and again back to his left, Epperly seemed to lose his balance as he put up his shot over a pair of Bulldog defenders.

A gym packed to the rafters with Bulldog and Vikings fans held their collective breath as Epperly’s shot kissed the backboard and fell

perfectly through the hoop with 2.1 seconds remaining to give the Vikings a 49-47 lead.

Mission’s Zoran LaFrombois put up a shot from beyond halfcourt as the buzzer sounded, but his effort fell well short of the basket as the Vikings escaped with the win and a berth in the State B Basketball Tournament in Great Falls March 9-11.

“I made a spin and I pretty much just chucked it up there and it went in,” Epperly said about the winning play. “I lost my footing a little, but it went in, so that’s all that counts.”

Nick Walker led the way for the Vikings with 12 points in the win while Wyatt Johnson scored 11 and Epperly had 10 points in a game that was physical from the opening tip.

Bigfork jumped out to a quick lead, but a LaFrombois three in the closing moments of the opening quarter put Mission up 17-15 after eight minutes of play.

Mission’s defense continually stifled Bigfork’s attempts to get to the basket, but a jumper by Walker put the Vikings up 23-22 with 1:46 to play in the half.

Lex LaFrombois answered with a three to put Mission back in the lead but a baseline jumper from Walker left the teams knotted at 25 at the break.

A steal and layup by Johnson in the closing moments of the third gave the Vikings their largest lead of the game at 42-33 heading into the fourth.

A 14-5 run by Mission in the fourth tied the game at 47 on a post basket by Cederic McDonald with 1:01 to play before Epperly’s heroics sealed the win for Bigfork.

“This was the loudest game of the year, for sure. I even had to plug my ears at one point. It was a great atmosphere for a great game,” Epperly said about the contest. “We just had to stick together as a team. We had a few moments in the game when we were down and we all just grouped together and said what we needed to do. We are a very close group and that is how we play.”

Along with Bigfork’s three double-digit scorers, Bryce Gilliard added nine points, Landon Byerman had five and Jack Jensen scored two points.

The Vikings found themselves in the Western B challenge game after dropping the divisional championship game to Loyola in Anaconda Saturday, 67-37.

The Vikings found themselves down 10-2 early but battled back to cut the Loyola lead to 12-10 before several Rams’ threes left Bigfork trailing 23-15 after one quarter.

After falling further behind, the Vikings were able to cut the lead to seven in the third before Loyola pulled away to win by 30.

Epperly scored all 10 of his team-high 10 points in the first quarter of the loss while Walker added seven points and Johnson, Eli Thorness, Jensen, Byerman and Gilliard each scored four.

Rebounding and lock-down defense helped the Vikings get past Anaconda in the divisional semifinals Friday as Thorness shut down Copperhead leading scorer River Hurley with stifling man-to-man pressure while the Vikings outrebounded Anaconda 46-25.

Johnson led the offensive attack for the Vikings with 16 points and also had a team-high nine rebounds in the 64-37 win.

Gilliard added 14 points and five boards, Epperly scored 12, Jensen had seven points, Levi Peterson had five, Thorness scored three and added eight assists, Byerman and Walker each had two points and Dylan Porovecchio had one.

The Vikings outscored Arlee 36-20 over the middle two quarters to earn a 71-58 win in the opening round of divisionals Thursday as Walker finished with 16 points and five rebounds while Johnson added 13 points.

Gilliard finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the win while Thorness had 10 points, Epperly added nine points and 10 rebounds, Quinn Herring scored six, Byerman had four and Jack Lucky scored two.

The Vikings will open play at the State B Tournament in Great Falls Thursday as they take on Red Lodge at 5 p.m.