Western C Divisional Championship roundup
Local basketballers gave it their all to end season in Deer Lodge
Twin Bridges Falcon Boys – State bound boys ready to bounce back
Twin Bridges’ Feb. 25 divisional matchup was a rematch of sorts against Granite – they’d beaten the Granite Prospectors handily back in February, 58-18. But Granite was down one of its top scorers in that initial matchup, so the boys and Head Coach Josh Keller knew they couldn’t let their guard down.
The second meeting between the Falcons and Prospectors was certainly a battle, but the fighting birds of Twin Bridges secured their first divisional tournament win 57-37. It wasn’t easy though – Granite was able to hold the Falcon’s top scorers – Charlie Kruer and Matthew Kaiser – to a combined 14 points. “That’s when our supporting staff really stepped up,” said Coach Keller, who gave props to Connor Nye for pulling in 18 points, Axton Anderson with 10, and Tate Smith with nine.
Next down the gauntlet was another re-match, this one against Shields Valley for the second day of divisional play. Coach Keller gave credit to the big, smart Shields team who play patient, solid basketball. But it was his boys that would win the game. “We knew, no matter what, they were going to battle back, and we jumped on them,” recounted Keller.
The Falcons were up 12 to zilch in the first quarter, but sure enough, Shields bounced back, taking the lead with just five minutes left on the game clock. Kruer helped his team weather that storm with a big three-pointer with less than two minutes on the clock, putting the Falcons up by two with an eventual win, 46-41.
It was just minutes before the start of the Falcon’s next matchup against Manhattan Christian when the team learned they’d be heading to the state championship. They’d just beaten Manhattan to round out district playoffs on Feb. 20, so emotions were high heading into the next game.
It turned out to be a rough one for the Falcons, who lost 67-23, though they could rest somewhat easy with the knowledge they’d compete in state despite the loss.
“Manhattan Christian was out for revenge, and when I look back at the film, I felt like we could have put in a better showing than we did,” said Coach Keller. “If we ever get to see that team again, we will be more prepared and ready to play a little harder.”
The Montana State Class C Boys Basketball Tournament will take place at Lockwood High School in Billings March 10-13. The Falcons will compete against the undefeated Bridger on the 10th.
Ennis Mustang Girls – A competitive, close-knit crew
The Lady Mustangs kicked off their divisional play against Clark Fork on Feb. 24, starting the tournament off right with a win, 48-35. Head Coach Jordan Overstreet said his team’s inside game made a number of solid layups, and guards and posts sealed the deal in the second half.
The semi-finals weren’t quite as rosy for the Ennis girls, losing to Seeley-Swan Friday night 52-42.
“It was a battle,” said Coach Overstreet, noting that super athletic Seeley went on to win the divisional tournament. “I thought the girls played really well, we just couldn’t execute down the stretch and they were able to get us.”
Back at it Saturday morning after a late game, the Lady Mustang’s next opponent was their local rival, Twin Bridges in the loser-out game. This battle dealt another loss for Ennis, 38-27. Overstreet gave credit to Twin, a great team, he said, who got better as the season went on.
All three divisional games for the girls were close ones, “But the ball just didn’t bounce the right way for us at times, and sometimes you have to have a little luck on your side, too,” said Coach Overstreet.
Overstreet gave kudos to junior Shea Lovett, who excelled throughout the championship, stepping up her game and playing consistently. On Wednesday junior Shelbey Klein excelled against Clark Fork with 16 points; sophomore Marlyssa Ledgerwood had 10. Senior Jenna Snyder proved her mettle against Seeley on Saturday, racking up 16 points. Another notable scorer was senior Landri Paladichuk who stacked up nine, nine and 10 in each game respectively.
“It was a good, solid team effort throughout the weekend, they played hard like they always do,” said Coach Overstreet, applauding the girls for their work ethic and close relationships. “They were a great group to coach this year.”
Out of the six years Overstreet has been coaching the Lady Mustangs, the girls have made divisionals five times. It’s never easy to say goodbye to the season, but he said his competitive crew should be proud of what they did this season.
Harrison Wildcat Boys – A program-building season of success
The Wildcats’ divisional ride began on Feb. 25 with a win against Valley Christian, 61-52. Harrison Head Coach Zach Murphy said his boys played very well. Missoula’s Valley Christian did have a big player who was playing well, but lucky enough for Harrison, the hard-hitting VC player had a number of charges thrown against him and he was taken out of the game. “Once their best player was out, we had the run of the game,” said Murphy.
Next up was Manhattan Christian on the 26th, “Which wasn’t great,” said Murphy, who considers the team perhaps the best in the state. “They beat the tar out of us.” Final score: 75-35.
Saturday was a new day as the Wildcats took on Granite out of Phillipsburg in the morning. It was one of the better games Harrison played all year, said Murphy. Granite was looking to slow things down, but the Wildcats hit their shots early and kept things moving for a win, 59-32.
That afternoon the Wildcats had a matchup against Shields Valley, who they had beat 50-44 back on Feb. 20 to get into Divisionals. Things went different this time, Harrison ultimately losing 56-41. Coach Murphy said he hasn’t been able to watch the film just yet, but his boys played and shot the ball as good as they could – they scored well, but just couldn’t make the necessary stops for a win.
That loss to Shields Valley marked the end of a bittersweet season for the Wildcats – it was an abrupt conclusion for the five Wildcat seniors, but also for Murphy who in his three years coaching for Harrison only had one senior for each of the two previous years.
Murphy said there were a lot of expectations placed on this team, and he felt they met them all with the two Divisional wins. The Wildcats made Divisionals last year, but prior to that, it had been decades since they’d come this far.
“I told the kids, it was a program-building year,” said Murphy. “All five of those guys should be proud of themselves for what they did, and what they meant to the program.”
Twin Bridges Falcon Girls – Setting goals and reaching them
The Falcon girls crew, led by Coach Rob Lott, went into Divisionals with a goal – to win some games. Last season they’d made it to the tournament but went home with their win bucket empty. This time around, wins were had and goals were accomplished.
The first matchup for the Lady Falcons was against the undefeated Charlo Vikings on Feb. 24. The girls played well and were ahead by a few points going into the fourth quarter. However, Charlo’s senior veterans took over before it was all said and done, dealing Twin a loss, 44-30.
Next up was an 8 a.m. bout against Granite – the girls were familiar with the team since they’d played them near the end of the regular season. The Lady Falcons lost against Granite that first go-round, but the second time was a charm as they were able to secure a tournament win, 45-39. “It was a great game,” said Coach Lott. “We stayed close all the way, and it was a good win for us.”
Riding that winning wave, the Twin girls took on Ennis Saturday morning, ultimately securing another W, 38-27. Just like their last matchup against the Lady Mustangs, the game was a backand-forth battle; the two teams being pretty evenly matched. The Falcons had a solid lead in the first half, but the Mustangs came back in the second, just a little too late to make the difference.
It came down to a rematch against Charlo later that day, where very recent history replayed itself. Charlo nabbed the win again, this time 43-29. Charlo’s experienced team slowly beat the Falcons each quarter. “They just had a little more gas left in their tank, and I was proud of my team for playing them tough,” said Coach Lott.
Lott said he watched his young team improve throughout the tournament, seeing them compete even better than they had the week before in Districts.
Wins against two good teams this year provided some vindication after last year’s win-less Divisional experience for the Lady Falcons. “So that was one of their goals, to win a game at Divisional,” said Coach Lott. “Well, they went ahead and won two. And I was proud of them for it.”