This is how I picture it- Ross DuBray
I can still remember when I was nine years old the excitement and pride that I felt and the overall excitement in the community when the Braves defeated Hoven in the regional championship to advance to the state tournament in 1986. That pride was amplified after watching the #8 seeded Braves on television upset top rated Redfield 55-51 in the first round to move to the semi-finals. The Braves faced Hanson and narrowly lost 50-45 to the eventual Class A champions. The Braves finished fourth in the state that year after losing to Jesse Mendoza and the Pine Ridge Thorpes.
The road to the state tournament was a lot longer back then. 1986 was the first year that South Dakota was divided into three classes. Back in that day, the top two teams from each district advanced to play in the regional tournament where the number one team from the first district would play the number two team from the other district and vice versa with the winners playing for the regional championship.
That year, C-EB won their first round district match against Lemmon 52-51 but lost the district championship to Mobridge. With the challenge rule still in place McLaughlin, who had lost to Mobridge in the first round, challenged C-EB for second place since the two teams hadn’t played at all in the tournament. C-EB had to play a third district game to defend their spot but was victorious over McLaughlin 50-40.
In the regional tournament, the number two Braves had to play the number one Ipswich Tigers from the other district and Mobridge squared off with the Hoven Greyhounds. All bets were on a Mobridge/Ipswich regional final. C-EB Head Coach Rob Mendoza, then only a sophomore hit a 25-footer at the last second to put the Braves on top to upset Ipswich and advance to the championship. The underdog Greyhounds had upset overall favorite Mobridge. In the finals Eagle Butte walked away with the region championship defeating the Greyhounds for the Braves’ second Class A state tournament appearance.
The state tournament is always the goal for every basketball team at the beginning of the year but winning a region tournament and making a state tournament is a fairly rare occurrence. For C-EB, this years trip will mark the 15th appearance in 54 years after Cheyenne Agency and Eagle Butte combined in 1960. Cheyenne had made three appearances in the Class B state tournament is 1940, finishing third in 1958 and winning it all in 1959.
In the 60’s, C-EB made three trips in 1961, 1964, and 1966. The Braves returned three times in the 70’s making it in 1970, 1971, and 1975. Three trips were made in 80’s in 1980, 1986, and 1988. The 90’s were a different story for the Braves making the trip four times with consecutive trips in 1994 and 1995 and also in 1998 and 1999. In the 2000’s, the Braves made two trips, once in 2001 and again in 2003.
Looking at the statistics, the Braves make it to the big show on average three times per decade. Even though there has been an 11-year drought on appearances, we are still hanging in there with our biggest rivals. Currently we are tied with Mobridge-Pollock and Miller on state tournament appearances with 19. Pine Ridge has made it 21 times and Chamberlain has made it 10 times in their history. Class A powerhouses Madison and Lennox have made it 23 times in comparison.
Overall with our 19 appearances, in the grand scheme of things I’d have to say we are doing pretty well.
As the Braves continue this week on their trek to the state tournament, I hope the youngsters of the community take notice and remember this season and remember how the community came together to support their home team. I hope they remember the feeling and hope they emulate their favorite players during the summer when they are playing hoops at the playground or during recess pretending to make the winning last second shot.
We don’t know when we’ll return to the state tournament but if history speaks for the future, C-EB should have some repeat trips the second half of this decade. For now, soak it all in and remember!
Good luck Braves!