Fired-up Oredigger men battle past Rocky

By Bill Foley

Rocky Mountain College awoke a sleeping giant.

Montana Tech sophomore Caleb Bellach scored 11 quick points after a hard foul Thursday night, and the Orediggers surged to a 76-68 win over Rocky Mountain College in a Frontier Conference men’s basketball game at the HPER Complex. (Stats)

“I hadn’t been playing very well defensively all night, and I hadn’t been shooting well,” Bellach said, adding that the hostility got him going. “I don’t know, something just clicked. I just realized after that I needed to buckle down and get my head right.”

With Bellach right, the Orediggers rolled, and a 23-14 Tech run closed out the Orediggers’ sixth win in seven Frontier Conference games.

“Luckily things got defused, and it lit a fuse for Caleb, which was really good,” Tech coach Adam Hiatt said. “Caleb has been a little bit under the weather, and it was good for him to snap out tonight.”

With the Orediggers trailing 54-53, Bellach drove and was knocked down by Rocky’s Beau Santistevan.

Bellach, a transfer from Montana State, jumped up and went after Santistevan. Luckily for the Orediggers, senior Derrius Collins grabbed Bellach before the situation got worse.

Santistevan was called for a flagrant foul, and Bellach drew a technical foul.

“I knew I was probably going to get a T,” Bellach said, “but it was a pretty hard foul.”

Bellach hit two free throws before Rocky’s Tayshawun hit 1 of 2 technical free throws shooting into the teeth of the Oredigger student section.

Rocky assistant coach Shaughn McKeon, a former Butte Central standout, was ejected for going onto the floor, even though he was clearly going to break up a potential fight.

When the dust had settled on the skirmish, the game was tied at 55 with 9 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game.

Bellach made sure it was not tied long. The Manhattan Christian product hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Orediggers up for good.

“I got a little confidence going after I hit the first one,” Bellach said. “Everyone was hitting shots and playing well. It was good to see.”

Then Bellach drove for what Collins called a “poster dunk” and a three-point play to put Tech up 67-60 with 3:53 left.

Hiatt said Santistevan had no ill intent on what turned out to be a game-changing foul.

“Bo Santistevan is a really good kid and a good student,” Hiatt said. “He just thought that was going to stop a basket.”

The Orediggers opened the game on fire, scoring the first eight points. Tech led 16-4 before the Battlin’ Bears started two chip away at the lead.

“Rocky is a great team,” Hiatt said. “They’re much improved. They’re really athletic. They’ve got a lot of guys who can score. They’ve got size. They can rebound better than anybody else in the conference.

“They were able to control the tempo of the game. They kept it at a slower pace, which favored them.”

The Orediggers held a 35-32 lead at halftime before Santistevan hit a jumper to put the Bears up 54-43. A few seconds later, things changed when Bellach hit the floor.

Up until that point, senior Sindou Diallo was leading the Orediggers. He scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists. He also, per usual, had three crowd-igniting dunks.

A Diallo dunk in traffic mad it a 76-64 with 55 seconds left, and it signaled that the game was over. Hiatt called it a “Sourin’ Sindou moment.”

Bellach finished with 18 points, while Taylor England battled four 11 points and seven rebounds. In addition to the Bellach save, Collins joined Keeley Bake with eight points.

The Orediggers, who improved to 17-5 overall, also got four points from Drew use and two apiece from Camdyn LaRance, Christian Jones and Cody Baumstarck. Bridger Larson and Michael Ure contributed, too.

“I like this team,” Hiatt said. “This is a team that sacrifices for one another. It’s a team that plays for each other. It’s a team that also closes game really well.”

Bradford scored 14 points to lead four Battlin’ Bears in double figures. Abdul Bah scored 13, Nick Hart tossed in 11, and Maxim Stephens scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Rocky won the rebounding battle 39-33, and the Bears outscored Tech 19-0 on second-chance points.

Kael Robinson scored nine for the Bears, who fell to 9-10 and 2-5. Santistevan tossed in seven.

“In the Frontier Conference, there are no easy outs,” Hiatt said. “It doesn’t matter where the game is played. Every game is a battle. Every game comes down to the wire, and we’re just grateful that we were able to come out with a win.”

The Orediggers have another battle Saturday when No. 6 Carroll College comes to town. The women play at 2 p.m. before the men tip off at 4.



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