GREAT FALLS — For the first time in program history, the Missoula Loyola boys are state champions.
The Rams topped Malta 65-55 in the State B title game on Saturday in Great Falls, and all the title losses, semifinal disappointments, and close calls slid off their shoulders. Loyola broke through, and in a big way.
“Coach (Scott) Anderson never made it out of the semifinals before, he was like 0-13,” said sophomore post Reynolds Johnston. “So it just feels great to finally do it for him and get one for the school.”
The Rams had to withstand Malta’s best shot. These teams played earlier in the season with Loyola taking 59-44 win at a tournament in Shelby. But the Mustangs have been playing incredible basketball recently, including a second straight Northern B divisional title and convincing wins over Lame Deer and Bigfork in the tournament so far.
Malta jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the strength of sophomore Treyton Wilke, who hit some big 3s before Loyola called a timeout. Then the Rams calmly answered with a 9-0 run of their own to close the gap.
“During the timeout, coach just told us to get the nerves out,” said senior guard Raef Konzen. “It’s exciting, but we had to lock in.”
After the slow start, Loyola went to halftime up 25-20. But Malta started the second half quickly, and soon the game was tied at 28 with five minutes left in the third quarter. That’s when Loyola opted to ‘Feed the Beast’, going down low to Johnston who responded with 14 points in the third quarter alone on the way to a game high 22 on the night.
“I knew I had to lock in. We had been relying on Ethan (Stack) a lot and I had been playing my best all tournament,” Reynolds said. “And I just knew I had a lock in, hit my shots, and I finally got to knock down a three or two for the team.”
Reynolds' big performance helped the Rams build an 18 point lead in the fourth quarter, before cruising to the end of regulation. In addition to Reynolds, Konzen had 14 points and seven rebounds, while Stack had 12 points, seven rebounds and four steals.
Malta was led by Jared Eggebrecht with 14 points and eight rebounds, Wilke with 14 points and Bohdi Brenden with 10 points and six steals.
While this is the first title in program history for Loyola, it certainly won’t be the last. The Rams lose just two sophomore in Konzen and Jack Fines. Stack, Reynolds and several other underclassmen are set to return.
“I know these boys are going to carry it on next year, year after, and it's going to keep going,” Konzen said. “This is just the first domino.”
And they have lofty goals for the immediate future.
“Lodge Grass is the only team that's three-peated in Class B,” Reynolds said. “We’re trying to be like them."