BILLINGS — Defending a state championship is never easy, and Manhattan Christian had to claw its way back to the Class C boys state championship game with a 61-56 overtime victory over Belt on Friday at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
The Eagles will square off against Big Sandy, which defeated Broadus 55-53 in the night's other semifinal. Big Sandy will play for the title after overcoming early season upheaval with the dismissal of previous coach Thomas Dilworth.
The championship game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at First Interstate Arena.
Manhattan Christian 61, Belt 56
The Eagles led by 11 points in the first half and took a 24-14 lead into intermission as Belt struggled with its perimeter shooting. But the Huskies eventually got hot, hitting seven second-half 3-pointers. A Garett Metrione triple put Belt ahead 38-35 early in the fourth and a Bridger Vogl 3 put the Huskies back in front by one point with four minutes left.
But Manhattan Christian's biggest clutch contribution came from Jack Scott, who was scoreless in the first half but scored three huge shots late. His first basket came off a Seth Amunrud steal that tied the game 49-49 and forced overtime. In OT, Scott scored inside on a feed from Tebarek Hill and later converted through a foul with 34 seconds left to make it 57-56.
The Eagles never gave up the lead after that. Those were the only points Scott scored.
"Jack is ... I don't even know what to say about him. He is unreal," Amunrud said. "I mean, he's been a stud all year long for us, playing defense and making plays. And man he came through in the clutch today. I don't have enough good things to say about Jack. He's phenomenal."
"I think it's just all about heart and sticking together," Amunrud said. "Man, Belt is an amazing team, but we just had to keep battling and it's all about heart at the end."
Vogl scored 22 of his game-high 29 points in the second half to lead Belt's charge. Metrione finished with 16. The duo combined to hit nine 3-pointers. The Huskies fell into the consolation bracket with the loss.
Mason Venema had 18 for the Eagles, including a big bucket on an inbound pass from Hill with 39 seconds left in regulation to make it a two-point game. Amunrud had 13 and Christian Triemstra added 11.
Big Sandy 55, Broadus 53
In December, Dilworth was placed on administrative leave and the head coaching role was filled by assistant coach Rhett Simanton. At 22 years old, Simanton has rallied his team to the championship game after a third-place finish at districts and a second-place finish at divisionals.
Against Broadus, Isaac Pedraza scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and made the biggest shot of the night, a corner 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining to put the Pioneers ahead 51-45 lead. The Hawks, who have never played for a boys state basketball title, led 28-21 but Big Sandy went on a 34-25 run in the second half.
"This is a pretty special group," said Simanton, a Malta grad. "We've had a lot of adversity this year, but these are tough boys and the credit goes to them. We wanted to come out and play basketball. We didn't care about the outside stuff or anything like that. We knew we could compete at a high level."
"I pretty much had to adapt right away," Simanton said of being thrust into the head coaching role in December. "They talent's there, but with us it comes down to effort. Every night we've tried to come out and give everyone our best game. I'm real proud of the boys for really sticking with that."
Broadus was led by Marcus Mader's 19 points. Dillon Gee had 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Braydon Cline added 13 points for Big Sandy while Lane Demontiney and Kody Strutz each had seven.
Broadus slipped into the consolation bracket on Saturday morning. Big Sandy will play for its first boys title since 2010. The Pioneers also won the 6-Man football championship this past fall.