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State B boys: Defending champion Missoula Loyola, Fairview post convincing semifinal wins

Fairview boys basketball
Missoula Loyola vs. Poplar boys basketball
Posted at 10:03 PM, Mar 08, 2024

BILLINGS — The transition from Class C to Class B has gone all right for the Fairview Warriors. Maybe better than all right.

The Warriors, who switched classifications for this school year, reached the state tournament championship game with a 56-39 win over Anaconda Friday night in the semifinals, giving them a chance to win their first title since the 2012 team won it all in Class C.

“I’m not going to lie, we had a little bit of a football hangover from the (8-Man) state championship,” Fairview coach Ty Hurley said. “We started off the season rough. Then I think after Christmas the boys finally found what our identity was and it’s been working for us for quite a few games now.”

One final hurdle remains, though, and it’s a big one. Figuratively and literally.

Defending state champ Missoula Loyola remained unbeaten with its won semifinal victory, beating Poplar 63-42 behind a big night from Reynolds Johnston.

Fairview and Loyola will tip off at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night.

“Most of the time they make us coaches look pretty good,” Loyola’s Scott Anderson said of his team. “They’re really good kids. They love each other and they take care of each other.”

Saturday’s loser-out games are Arlee against Poplar and Anaconda against Lodge Grass (at Rocky Mountain College). Both those games start at 10:30 a.m., with the winner’s advancing to the 5 p.m. third-place game.

Fairview 56, Anaconda 39

Tyler Loan stood outside the Fairview post-game locker room – the team was temporarily locked out – dabbing his eyes with a towel as the emotions of the night flowed over him.

It was Loan’s long buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter that gave the Warriors a 15-10 lead, and they rode that momentum into the second quarter. By the end of the first half, Fairview led 24-12 by limiting the Copperheads to 4 of 20 shooting from the floor.

Anaconda tried to make a game of it in the third quarter, but never got closer than 10 points.

Fairview boys basketball
Fairview coach Ty Hurley talks to Deacon Gackle (11) and Landen Thompson during the Warriors' game against Anaconda in the semifinals of the Class B state tournament at First Interstate Arena in Billings on March 8, 2024.

“I’ve told this team a couple times, this is probably the hardest-working group of kids I’ve ever coached,” said Hurley, a Fairview native. “We’ve had some good team come through Fairview, but this team works their tails off all game long.”

Loan finished with 21 points, making 7 of 10 shots from the floor. Landen Thompson had 13 points and Jeff Tjelde scored 13 and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Anaconda, which was led by River Hurley’s 13 points, was trying to make its championship appearance since 2017.

Instead it’ll be Loan and the Warriors.

“I’ve been dreaming of playing basketball at a high level since I was a kid,” Loan said, explaining why Friday’s win was so meaningful to him. “So I’ve been working real hard. It hasn’t shown much this season but hard work pays off.”

Missoula Loyola 63, Poplar 42

Loyola’s coach Anderson said his team was a bit ahead of schedule last season. They went to state hoping to win a game or two, he said; instead, the Rams won it all with plenty of underclass talent returning this season.

“Then this year, the expectations were huge,” Anderson conceded. “And I’m still not sure, you know, we’re the best team, but they just keep thinking they are and we’re rolling with it.”

It took only a little over a minute in game time for the Breakers to wrest control of the contest from the Indians.

Missoula Loyola vs. Poplar boys basketball
Missoula Loyola's Reynolds Johnston (44) and Poplar's Walker Burshia congratulate each other after their semifinal game of the Class B boys basketball state tournament at First Interstate Arena in Billings on March 8, 2024.

Leading by just four points – 21-17 – with a little over three minutes remaining in the first half, a flurry of baskets put the Breakers up by 12.

Ethan Stack started the burst with a layup, and he quickly followed with a steal and dunk for another two points. Talen Reynolds added a basket and Declan Harrington stole the inbound and made another bucket.

That made it 29-12. Poplar made a charge or two, but didn’t whittle to deficit to less than nine the rest of the way.

“We knew they were going to stick with us, they have great players,” Johnston said. “But we knew eventually that we’d finally hit our run.”

Johnston made 12 of 15 shots for 28 points. Noah Haffey hit five 3-pointers on his way to 15 and Ethan Stack scored 10 points. The long Rams — all their starters range in height from 6-foot-2 to 6-5 — got plenty of inside looks, and their extended zone limited the Indians to 9-of-30 shooting on 3-pointers.

Geordy Medicine Cloud scored 18 points and Delray Lilley had 12 to lead the Indians, who were trying to end a drought of title-game appearances that extends to 1975.

Friday loser-out scores

Arlee 84, Red Lodge 54

Lodge Grass 70, Manhattan 46