GREAT FALLS -- For the first time since 1992, the Fort Benton Longhorns are headed to state after defeating Big Sandy 57-39 to claim a Northern C boys basketball divisional championship.
“This is a huge step for our program,” said Longhorns head coach Tyler Pasha. “These seniors have worked their tails off for four years. This feels amazing, I’m so proud of these boys for what they’ve done.”
The win came over the hottest team in the tournament in Big Sandy. The Pioneers came from down double digits in wins on Wednesday and Thursday and upset Chinook on Friday in the semifinals.
Big Sandy matched Fort Benton shot for shot in the first half behind hot-shooting Ryan Roth and solid interior defense from Brock Proulx and Kade Strutz against Longhorn bigs Garrett and Hayden Diekhans. The Pioneers led 12-10 after the first quarter and only trailed 23-19 at halftime.
Fort Benton blew the game open in the third quarter with a 10-0 run, outscoring Big Sandy 18-6 in the period to build a 41-25 lead entering the final frame.
“Big Sandy came on hot and gave us a run (Saturday),” Pasha said. “Got to give them credit, hat's off to that. This is an amazing tournament. Hopefully it gets us ready for the Adams Center in Missoula.”
Hayden Diekhans scored a game-high 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and two steals. His brother Garrett Diekhans joined him in double figures with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Roth led the Pioneers with 12 points, all but two of them coming in the first half. Clint Darlington added eight points, 10 rebounds and five steals in defeat.
With the loss, Big Sandy will now face Belt in a challenge game Monday at 5:30 p.m. after the Huskies topped Chinook earlier in the consolation final. Fort Benton advances to the State C tournament in Missoula where it will face the No. 2 seed out of the West.
“We’ve got to make sure that when we come back ready to practice we’re 100 percent” Pasha said. “We’re going to be in a place we’ve never been before and face teams we’ve never seen before. So, we’ve got a lot to get ready for.”
Belt 53, Chinook 47 (boys consolation final)
The Belt Huskies withstood a furious rally from Chinook in the final three minutes of the game to defeat the Sugarbeeters 52-47 in the Northern C consolation final.
After holding Chinook scoreless in the third quarter, Belt had a 41-27 lead entering the fourth quarter. The Huskies led 45-27 with 3:05 remaining in the game, when Chinook went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 45-43 with 1:37 left.
The Huskies hit several clutch free throws down the stretch to hold off the Sugarbeeters. Aidan McDaniel scored 17 points to lead all scorers, Kaimen Evans added 13 and Bridger Vogl pitched in 11 in for Belt.
Ethan Bell spent much of the game in foul trouble for Chinook, amassing four first-half fouls, but still managed 15 points to lead the Sugarbeeters. Hunter Neibauer scored 12, while Reese Elliot added 11 – all coming in the first half.
Belt will face Big Sandy in a Monday challenge game for the No. 2 seed out of the North at 5:30 p.m.