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State B boys: Missoula Loyola wears down Fairview for second consecutive title

Missoula Loyola Boys State B title 2024
Posted at 11:00 PM, Mar 09, 2024

BILLINGS —  Sensing a second consecutive Class B boys state championship coming its way, the Missoula Loyola student section at First Interstate Arena on Saturday night began chanting “It’s too easy! It’s too easy!”

Up to that point, the Rams players and coaches might have disagreed a bit with that sentiment. And, later, post-game, they did disagree. Though the Fairview Warriors fell behind double digits on multiple occasions, they also managed to get back into and stay in the game.

Fairview trailed by just four points past the midway point of the second quarter. But Loyola finally began to unravel the Warriors and indeed won another state title, 69-54, completing a 25-0 season along the way.

“It’s an absolute honor to do it with these guys, this coaching staff, back to back,” said the Rams’ Ethan Stack, who finished with 21 points, one behind the 22 points of team leader Reynolds Johnston. “This year we knew we had to come back after the last (title) with the same energy, the same everything we did last year.”

Every pre-game indicator pointed the Rams’ way. They’d rarely been tested this season: only Class A Havre (a five-point Loyola victory) and Arlee (a 10-point margin for Loyola) had played close games with the Rams.

Not to mention, Loyola features a pair 1,000-point scorers in Stack and Johnston, both juniors.

The Rams used their size – all five starters are 6-foot-2 or taller – and accurate 3-point shooting (they made eight on the game) to eventually wear down the Warriors, who finished third in their district tournament before winning a divisional title and advancing to the state championship game in its first season in Class B.

“It was a battle out there,” Fairview coach Ty Hurley said. “I mean, hats off to Missoula. They’re a very good team. They’re athletic. They’re big. They can shoot the ball. I mean, they’ve got it all.”

Those were similar words that came from Loyola coach Scott Anderson. While his team continued to celebrate its latest conquest, Anderson remained in his coach’s chair court side, deconstructing the victory and the season. But first, unprompted, came the words about Fairview.

“We get on a little run right off the bat and I thought ‘here we go,’ ” Anderson said. “Those kids just battled, I mean, they came right back. They weren’t afraid. The moment wasn’t too big. They wanted a piece of us and they got (the deficit) back, you know, to a couple points.”

Loyola bolted to leads of 17-4, 28-17 and 38-27 in the first half before settling for a nine-point lead at the break.

Three-pointers from Jack Clevenger and Jamo Kendrick and a third basket from Johnston to open the third quarter seemed to break the Warriors’ back, even if not their will.

Landen Thompson scored 17 points to lead Fairview, while Tyler Loan added 14 points. Jeff Tjelde finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

From the first day of the season plenty of fingers pointed Loyola’s way for a repeat championship. And with four starters slated to return for a final season, the expectations of the Rams becoming the first Class B three-peat team since the 1988-90 Lodge Grass Indians will certainly be heaped upon them.

It’s a challenge the Rams are familiar with. And one they’re ready to take on.

“Well, we’re going to go to (a tournament in Dillon) and play all the AA teams, we go to Frenchtown and play all the AA and A teams and then we go to Gonzaga and play the 5A teams and you take a beating,” Anderson said. “There you’re playing schools with (enrollments) of 2,000. You get humbled real quick.

“Then you get excited about your season again. But we all go back to work. These kids are all great workers. We’ve had them since fifth grade. They just love each other, they love our school. They’re just a special group.”

Lodge Grass held off a furious fourth-quarter charge by Arlee to earn the third-place trophy with a 78-77 consolation victory earlier in the day.

The Indians overwhelmed Arlee in the third quarter by spinning a 14-0 run, which eventually expanded to a 23-9 run to end the quarter for a 66-45 lead.

The Warriors regrouped, though, and cut the deficit to 78-77 on a spinner through the lane by Ben Old Person-Harlow with 17.1 seconds to play.

Lodge Grass turned the ball over with 8.3 seconds to go in front of its own bench, setting up Arlee with one last chance. Old Person-Harlow sprinted down court and ran off a screen for an open look from the wing, but the ball hit off the back of the rim just before the buzzer, giving the Indians the trophy and a chance to breathe.

Old Person-Harlow led all scorers with 35 points, and he nabbed 10 rebounds as well. Kendal O’Neill added 14 points and Jake Knoll 10 for Arlee.

Lodge Grass received double-digit scoring from Lance Little Nest (15), JJ Bends (14), Toby Stewart (13) and Myron Little Light (12).

Saturday loser-out scores

Lodge Grass 55, Anaconda 54

Arlee 57, Poplar 44