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What caught my eye: Conference leaders stumble

Posted: 1:00 PM, Feb 12, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-12 17:36:09-05
Helena High girls down Hellgate, Capital wallops Butte

Postseason basketball is less than a week away.

Several teams had chances to make moves in the standings this past weekend, and a few took advantage of the opportunity. With that, the playoff picture is coming into focus.

Missoula Hellgate continues to cruise through its Western AA boys schedule, while Great Falls High knocked the Class AA defending champion into fourth in the conference. Missoula Hellgate’s girls had a roller-coaster weekend. The Knights could have jumped to the top of the Western AA standings, but a misstep cost them.

The Southwest A has been the strongest Class A boys conference this year, as three teams sit with records of 13-3 or better. It’s a logjam at the top after Hamilton fell this weekend. Billings Central’s girls finally found their footing, while Hamilton’s girls have turned the Southwest A into a two-team race.

Huntley Project’s boys had one of the most impressive turnarounds of the season in avenging an earlier defeat. The Three Forks boys couldn’t quite complete conference play perfect, while Fairfield still has an opportunity to do just that. Harlem’s girls continue to rack up wins, as they have the third-most wins among Class B girls teams. Forsyth is right on Harlem’s heels, as the Dogies won a huge rivalry game to maintain the District 3B lead. Columbus was able to clinch District 4B with a dominant showing at home over the weekend.

Fort Benton’s boys continue to cruise and keep their perfect record intact, while Plains hasn’t lost to a Class C team since Dec. 14. Froid-Medicine Lake continues to impress in the Eastern C, as the Red Hawks have firmly established themselves as District 2C’s No. 2 team. Westby-Grenora’s girls, however, are the top dog in District 2C. Wibaux isn’t atop its conference, but the Longhorns cemented themselves as District 4C’s second-place team, while Ennis suffered its first conference loss of the year, opening the door for Philipsburg.

That and more highlight what caught my eye over another busy weekend on Montana’s high school basketball courts.

Boys

Class AA

  • Great Falls High won a pivotal game over Bozeman on Saturday, 68-63, to grab second place in the Eastern AA standings. The two teams entered tied in the standings, but Bozeman has fallen to fourth with Billings Skyview also winning over the weekend. The defending Class AA champions could be in a bit of trouble, as getting out of the Eastern AA divisional tournament as the No. 4 seed will be no easy task. There’s still time to jockey for position in the standings, though.
  • Missoula Hellgate is on cruise control. The Knights kept their perfect record intact with a 58-42 win over second-place Helena Capital on Saturday afternoon. Hellgate has essentially locked up the Western AA regular-season title, and the Knights are the only unbeaten team remaining in Class AA, both boys and girls. Standout senior Rollie Worster also passed current Oregon State senior Tres Tinkle on the program’s career scoring list on Tuesday evening.

Class A

  • As of Feb. 10, there were only four teams with 13-plus wins this season in Class A boys basketball. Three of those teams reside in the same conference, as Butte Central, Frenchtown and Hamilton have all had remarkable seasons so far. It’s led to parity atop the conference, though. After Frenchtown handed Hamilton a 57-55 defeat on Thursday, Frenchtown found itself tied with Butte Central atop the conference standings and with a half-game lead on Hamilton.
  • Butte Central only finds itself on top of the standings because the Maroons beat Dillon 55-42 last Thursday to keep pace with Frenchtown. Frenchtown and Butte Central split their two meetings this season. The Southwest A district tournament could be one of the more intriguing postseason tournaments with the powerhouse teams at the top.

Class B

  • What a turnaround Huntley Project made in less than a month. Back on Jan. 10, the Red Devils were pummeled by Lodge Grass, 66-35, in Lodge Grass. Last Thursday, Huntley Project led the Indians by as many as 25 on its way to a 60-45 win. It’s Lodge Grass’s only loss to a Class B team this season. With the win, Huntley Project has now beaten every team on its schedule and is playing its best basketball as the postseason approaches.
  • Fairfield is also playing some of its best basketball, as the Eagles continued their dominance in District 1B with a 79-77 win over Rocky Boy. Fairfield is a perfect 11-0 in conference play this season, and a date with Choteau this week is all that separates the Eagles from a perfect conference record. Fairfield has won six in a row and 11 of 12.
  • Manhattan pulled out a big upset on Friday night, as the Tigers handed Three Forks its first conference loss of the year, 65-58. Three Forks had been cruising, winning its first eight conference games before falling to Manhattan. Three Forks is the District 5B regular-season champion, as the Wolves have no conference games remaining, but Three Forks will be tested by District 6B leader Deer Lodge and District 4B runner-up Columbus on the season’s final weekend.

Class C

  • Fort Benton is just one of four unbeaten Class C boys teams remaining, but the Longhorns got a stiff test last Thursday against Denton-Geyser-Stanford. DGS fell to Fort Benton 58-52, but the Bearcats proved they’re capable of hanging with the big dogs in the Northern C. Fort Benton will likely enter its district tournament undefeated and is on the short list of favorites for the Northern C crown. DGS is second in District 8C, which has five of its seven teams with records above .500.
  • Early in the year, I talked extensively about the boys teams in Scobey and Fairview. They’ve combined for a 31-1 record with the only loss coming when Scobey beat Fairview. There’s another challenger in the Eastern C, though, as Froid-Medicine Lake’s boys have run their record to 14-2 with wins over Westby-Grenora and Bainville, District 2C’s third- and fourth-place teams. Are the Red Hawks capable of hanging with the teams in the upper echelon? We’ll find out just how far Froid-Medicine Lake can go in the coming weeks.
  • Plains has run its record to 13-3, as the Horsemen defeated St. Regis, 57-48, on Friday night for their second victory over the Tigers this season. Plains has clinched the District 14C regular-season title and has given St. Regis both of its losses this season. Plains has been red hot of late, as the Horsemen have won nine of their past 10 games. With its 13-3 record, Plains has just one loss to a Class C team this season – a 47-44 loss at Seeley-Swan on Dec. 14. Along with Twin Bridges and Manhattan Christian, Plains has to be in the conversation of Western C title contenders.

Girls

Class AA

  • Missoula Hellgate’s girls had a chance to grab the lead in the Western AA this past weekend, but the Knights couldn’t quite get the job done. That’s because of Thursday night when Hellgate hosted Helena High, which still remains below .500. The Knights lost to Helena 38-37, but they followed that up with a 53-51 win over previously unbeaten Helena Capital. The win keeps conference title hopes alive for Hellgate, although very slim.
  • Missoula Sentinel won a huge matchup with Kalispell Glacier on Thursday, 48-45, as Sentinel has a firm hold on the conference’s No. 3 spot. The Spartans have plenty ahead on their schedule, as they have meetings with Helena High, Helena Capital and Missoula Hellgate still remaining. If the Spartans win out, they could be the Western AA regular-season champs.

Class A

  • Billings Central has rebounded nicely from its loss to Billings West on Jan. 31, as the Rams have won their past three games by 27 points per game. Central’s 56-39 win over Laurel on Saturday ensured that Billings Central would have a top-two seed out of the Southeast A. Laurel, on the other hand, will likely be battling with Glendive at the Eastern A divisional tournament for the fourth and final spot at the State A tournament.
  • It’s a two-horse race in the Southwest A, as Hamilton’s 40-24 victory over Frenchtown on Thursday night means there are only two teams in contention for the conference’s regular-season crown. Hamilton and Dillon met on Jan. 18 in Dillon, where the Beavers won 40-29. That was Hamilton’s only loss in conference play, while Dillon is still unbeaten. Hamilton hosts Dillon Saturday with a chance to snatch the conference title from the Beavers’ grasp.

Class B

  • Harlem’s girls are in control of District 2B, as the Wildcats beat Glasgow 52-43 on Thursday to maintain their lead over Malta. Harlem’s 15-1 record is good for third-best among Class B teams so far this season, and its only loss came on the road at Malta on Jan. 24. Harlem will likely enter the Northern B divisional tournament as the favorite, and the Wildcats can lock up the conference’s regular-season crown on Saturday.
  • Columbus wrapped up the District 4B regular-season title on Friday evening with a 36-18 defeat of Roundup. Columbus finished conference play a perfect 9-0. The Columbus girls have proven they can hang with the top teams in the division, as they have a two-point loss to Forsyth back on Dec. 13 and two single-digit losses to 16-0 Big Timber. Columbus will be looking to defend its Southern B divisional title.
  • Forsyth took a big step toward locking up the District 3B regular-season title on Thursday night, as the Dogies beat Colstrip 37-36. Forsyth now has a one-game lead over St. Labre in the conference standings and can lock up the conference crown this week against Lame Deer. The Southern B has been among the most competitive divisions in girls basketball this season, so expect some fireworks at the divisional tournament in a few weeks.

Class C

  • Westby-Grenora continues to dominate District 2C, as the Thunder beat Froid-Medicine Lake 48-34 to grab control of the conference. It’s Froid-Medicine Lake’s first loss in conference play this season, as the Red Hawks are firmly entrenched in second in the conference. The Eastern C was expected to be a dogfight entering the season, but Westby-Grenora has stood out in one of the most competitive conferences in the state.
  • Ekalaka has won back-to-back Southern C divisional titles, but the Bulldogs will enter the District 4C tournament in third place at best. The Bulldogs fell to second-place Wibaux, 59-57, over the weekend to put the Bulldogs in the middle of the conference. This is a team with substantial postseason experience, so don’t count out Ekalaka just yet.
  • Ennis entered the weekend with an unbeaten record in District 12C play, but the Mustangs fell to Philipsburg 33-24 for their first conference loss. The Ennis loss has opened the door for not only Philipsburg, but Drummond, too, to claim the regular-season conference title from the Mustangs’ grasp. Ennis will need to win out over the final weekend of the season to ensure the regular-season crown stays with the Mustangs.

Tuesday’s top games:

Boys

Huntley Project 55, Colstrip 51

Huntley Project continues to churn out victories. Along with its win over Lodge Grass last week, the Red Devils have beaten two of the top teams in Class B in the span of less than a week. Huntley Project is playing its best basketball headed into the postseason. With a perceived wide-open field in Class B, look out for the Red Devils.

Girls

Missoula Loyola 70, Anaconda 64

Missoula Loyola ran its record to a perfect 17-0 with a 70-64 win over Anaconda on Tuesday night. Loyola led by 16 after the first quarter, but Anaconda trimmed it to six by halftime. Loyola had three separate girls score more than 15 points. The Breakers are one of just two unbeaten teams remaining in Class B, as 16-0 Big Timber is the other.