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Cheney leads Challengers to Classic title

Jeremy Cheney dominated the first half, then the Cascade Christian defense took over after intermission against Helena Christian in the boys Unlimited Division championship game at the A.G. Edwards Christmas Classic basketball tournament Saturday at The Pavilion.

The tiny Montana school ran out of answers and out of energy as unbeaten Cascade Christian defeated the Rams 63-42.

Cheney, the Challengers' 6-foot-5 senior wing, scored 18 of his 24 points in the opening two quarters as Cascade held a 30-26 halftime lead.

But Cascade Christian (10-0), ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, held the Rams (12-2) scoreless for the first five minutes of the third quarter and built a 15-point advantage. Helena never got the deficit into single digits from there.

"They played great man-to-man defense," said Helena Christian coach Bob Hitzeroth. "Getting down early, we expended a lot of energy to get back in the game. We just ran out of gas. We weren't able to press like we wanted."

Cheney helped the Challengers to an explosive beginning. Cheney scored six points as Cascade jumped out to an 11-1 lead in the opening three minutes.

But the Helena Christian team, which comes from a 45-student school and won the Montana Christian Athletic Association state championship last year, fought back behind senior Cade Foster's 10 points to cut the Challengers' lead to 18-14 by the close of the quarter. And the teams battled to a 12-all tie in the second stanza.

Point guard Jarrod Hess was the catalyst to the Challengers' third-quarter burst. After Justin Duchien opened the scoring with a mid-range jumper, Hess accounted for the next seven points. The junior point guard drilled a 3-pointer, made two of three free throws after getting fouled attempting a trey, then got a putback on an offensive rebound.

"We were playing OK, but they shouldn't have hung in that long with us," said Hess. "I got off to a slow start but finished strong."

Hess ended with 10 points, five assists and three steals.

"(Hess) always seems like he's the sparkplug for us," Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse said. "He does things like that."

But Cheney's top offensive performance of the season was also impressive to the seventh-year Helena Christian coach.

"(Cheney) just lit it up," said Hitzeroth. "We couldn't stop him off those screens."

To Cheney it was simple: "My shot was falling. It felt good. So I just kept shooting."

The Challengers' veteran coach concurred.

"Offensively he was on fire," said Morse. "He has one of the best looking jumpers of anyone I've ever coached. And he also took it hard to the basket."

While Morse couldn't have been more pleased with Cheney's offensive effort, he wasn't satisfied with the Challengers' defensive play in the first half.

"We were frustrated because we thought they were getting too easy of looks," said Morse. "We needed to be more aggressive with our defense. We have to do a better job putting a team away."

Clearly, Morse's halftime message got through.

HELENA CHRISTIAN (42) — Olson 1, Cleasby 4, Cox 8, C. Foster 18, Grosh 0, K. Foster 6, Burgess 0, Spearson 5. Totals: 14 11-19 42.

CASCADE CHRISTIAN (63) — Morse 8, Cheney 24, Duchien 5, Hess 10, Kinney 4, Litton 2, Joffer 2, Ayala 0, Thomas 2, Saliga 4, Hoffman 2, Cochran 0. Totals: 27 6-15 63.

Helena Christian 14 12 6 10 — 42

Cascade Christian 18 12 18 15 — 63

3-point goals — Helena Christian 3 (Cleasby 1, Cox 2), Cascade Christian 3 (Morse 1, Cheney 1, Hess 1). Fouled out — Cox.

Cascade Christian’s Daniel Kinney gets fouled by Helena’s Cade Foster on Saturday. - Jamie Lusch