GREAT FALLS -- It's an all-District 9C boys basketball final in Great Falls. Undefeated Fort Benton defeated Belt in a Friday semifinal to advance to Saturday's Northern C divisional championship where the Longhorns will face upstart Big Sandy, which knocked off Chinook less than a week after falling to the Sugarbeeters 74-34.
Meanwhile, the Fort Benton girls finally dropped a game as Belt out-dueled the Longhorns to move on to the championship game. In the other semi, Roy-Winifred sailed past Hays-Lodgepole to set up a meeting with 8C foe Belt in the championship on Saturday.
Fort Benton 53, Belt 45 (boys semifinal)
Garett Diekhans had a monster game with 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks to help lead undefeated Fort Benton over District 8C champion Belt 53-45.
Jace Thompson added 13 points to join Diekhans in double figures. Aidan McDaniel led Belt with 15 points.
Fort Benton trailed 25-22 at halftime and 37-36 after three quarters but outscored the Huskies 17-8 in the final frame to seal the victory.
The Longhorns improved their record to 24-0 on the season and arguably played their toughest opponent of the year in rugged and defensively minded Belt. Fort Benton advances to the Northern C championship where it’ll face District 9C rival Big Sandy.
The Longhorns swept Big Sandy in the regular season.
Big Sandy 58, Chinook 48 (boys semifinal)
Less than a week after losing to Chinook by 40 at the District 9C tournament, Big Sandy flipped the script, grabbed an early lead and held on to beat the Sugarbeeters for the first time this season, 58-48, to advance to the Northern C championship.
“We knew we had to play a perfect game to beat these guys, Chinook is a hell of a ball team,” said Big Sandy coach Thomas Dilworth. “There’s something special happening with this team. It’s powerful when you set your mind to something what you can accomplish. And these guys believe.”
It’s already been a remarkable tournament for the Pioneers. On Wednesday they overcame a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit against Centerville in the play-in game to advance. And on Friday, they rallied from down 16 points to knock off District 10C champion Heart Butte 68-65 in overtime.
Now they’ve topped Chinook for the first time in years and are close to clinching a berth at the state tournament for the first time since 2013.
Clint Darlington led the Pioneers with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Kade Strutz and his brother, freshman Kody Strutz, both scored 15 points. Ethan Bell scored 17 to lead Chinook, followed by Toby Niederegger with 16.
Big Sandy will play 9C rival Fort Benton in the Northern C championship on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The Pioneers fell to the Longhorns twice in the regular season, but now they have reason to believe the third time will be different.
“Watch out for Big Sandy,” Dilworth said. “We’re not done. Fort Benton is a hell of a team, so we know we’re going to have to play another perfect game.”
Belt 52, Fort Benton 40 (girls semifinal)
After playing each other numerous times in postseason volleyball last fall, Belt and Fort Benton finally met on the basketball court, with the Huskies handing the Longhorns their first loss of the season in a 52-40 decision.
Fort Benton led 24-20 at halftime after McKenzie Clark drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer, but Belt responded with a huge run in the third quarter, outscoring Fort Benton by 10.
Kolby Pimperton led Belt with 19 points and Brooke Schraner added 17. Schraner was key in the Huskies' third quarter run.
McKenzie Clark led Fort Benton with 16 points, while Maci Molinario brought down 11 rebounds.
Roy-Winifred 59, Hays-Lodgepole 22 (girls semifinal)
Roy-Winifred opened on a 13-0 run and never looked back as they beat Hays-Lodgepole 59-22 to advance to the Northern C title.
Dyauni Boyce scored 16 points and Olivia Geer added nine for the Outlaws, who will face Belt in a District 8C title rematch on Saturday night. Belt defeated Roy-Winifred 47-45 in that game.
Tahtianna Whitecow-Morgan scored nine points for the Thunderbirds.