BILLINGS — Unfinished business no longer.
Lodge Grass claimed its second consecutive State B boys basketball title on Saturday night with 64-47 win over Manhattan inside First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings. After the 2020 State B tournament was called off following semifinal night, Lodge Grass claimed a co-championship with Fairfield. This year, however, the Indians are alone at the peak.
"Once we got that Fairfield game (in the regular season), we had two goals: Beat them, get that old monkey off our back, then prove it, validate it, seal it with this," Lodge Grass head coach Josh Stewart said. "Fairfield was our K2, this was our Everest. We climbed that mountain at the right time. We just say to God be the glory. That's what we say all year. More than anything, win or lose, God gets the glory and we're just thankful for that."
"Everyone kind of counted us out when we lost the game at divisionals," Lodge Grass junior Damon Gros Ventre said. "It kind of woke us up to realize that we're beatable, that we had to fix stuff and we had to execute."
Lodge Grass trailed 7-2 early on Saturday, but the Indians quickly took a 9-7 lead and never trailed again. Lodge Grass led by as many as 20 points in the second half, as Manhattan couldn't get the ball to fall through the hoop. Manhattan did trim the Lodge Grass lead to 36-30 early in the third quarter, but the Indians quickly extended it back to double digits before the fourth quarter.
"We just try to tell each other to win every possession that we can. Every possession counts. We executed down the stretch and came out on top," Gros Ventre said.
"Very proud of my guys for responding to that challenge. They've been ready for it. They're hungry and they got it," Stewart said. "This one is outright and it feels good."
It's been a trying season for the Indians. Injuries took their toll at points, as did COVID-19, which impacted the team in several ways -- from players missing time to family members passing.
"They're a resilient bunch. They've been taught to be resilient, to be strong. When adversity comes and life comes and knocks you down, you get up and you fight harder," Stewart said. "That's the mindset they have. When they had loss, they said, 'Coach, I wasn't sure if I was going to play, but I love my team, I love my brothers and I'm going to be here.'"
Ty Moccasin made his return in Thursday night's semifinals but didn't necessarily fill up the box score. He did on Saturday night, though, finishing with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.
"(Moccasin) is amazing. I'm proud of him. His heart is bigger than that ankle injury. I really think that's what carried him," Stewart said. "He had some motivation, his grandparents. We talked about those who are looking down on us and just said, 'OK. Let's go hard because they're watching. When you get tired, think of them and go harder.' And that's exactly what they did. Also, hats off to Manhattan. Classy bunch of tough basketball players."
Gros Ventre led Lodge Grass with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Malachi Little Nest added 10 points for the Indians. Manhattan senior Caden Holgate led all scorers with 20 points.
Lodge Grass will take aim at its third consecutive state title next winter. Gros Ventre will be back and he isn't wasting any time getting a head start.
"Tomorrow. I get back to work tomorrow," said Gros Ventre.