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What I'll be watching: Conference leaders to be tested

Brayden Koch Kaleb Metzger
Posted at 6:23 PM, Jan 23, 2020

Montana’s high school basketball teams are gearing up for the stretch run of the regular season.

It’s a light Class AA slate this weekend, but the games carry significant weight. The Billings Senior and Billings Skyview boys teams visit Great Falls this weekend with their seasons hanging in the balance. Three-time reigning girls champion Helena High needs a rivalry victory to stop its skid, too.

While a battle atop the Southwest A boys race takes place on Saturday, the Southeast A boys race has a pair of teams battling for second behind Hardin. Speaking of Hardin, its girls team has a chance Friday to avenge its only loss.

District 7B has games on the boys and girls side on Thursday night that will determine new conference leaders. The Southern B boys and girls will tantalize us with another set of intriguing matchups, as well.

A handful of conference leads are up for grabs on the Class C courts this weekend. Melstone and Scobey, two teams who have been familiar with the state tournament in recent memory, and Simms can essentially lock up their regular-season conference titles this weekend. A heavyweight showdown highlights the Class C girls action, as two of the state’s best meet for the second time this season. And, as has been the case frequently throughout the year, the Eastern C will bless fans with another great showdown.

That and more highlight what I’ll be watching on the final full weekend of January.

Reminder: Scores, stats, standings, story ideas and record-breaking performances can be emailed to sports@ktvh.com.

Boys

Class AA

  • Billings Senior and Billings Skyview are headed off to Great Falls this weekend needing at least a split of their games against Great Falls CMR and Great Falls High. On Saturday, Senior will take on CMR and Skyview will face the Bison. Great Falls High is 2-0 in Eastern AA play so far, while Skyview and Senior are 0-2. CMR could hold on to the Eastern AA’s No. 4-seed with just one victory this weekend, while the Bison are aiming to stay perfect.

Class A

  • Butte Central has a chance to make it a two-team race atop the Southwest A. The Maroons visit Frenchtown on Saturday, and the Broncs are in need of a win over unbeaten Butte Central. With a loss, Frenchtown would fall two games back of Hamilton and three games back of Butte Central with little time remaining in the regular season. The Maroons can add another win Saturday night to what is an impressive resume.
  • Hardin sits atop the Southeast A at 11-0, but Billings Central, Livingston and Laurel are all 6-3. Central and Livingston meet on Thursday night for sole possession of second place in the conference. Central got the better of the Rangers when the two teams met in Billings, but Livingston followed that game up by nearly upsetting Hardin. Livingston can’t get caught looking forward to this weekend’s tilt with Hardin or the Rams could run away with the conference’s No. 2 spot.

Class B

  • The top of District 7B is up for grabs on Thursday night in Bigfork, as the Vikings host Eureka. Eureka is off to a 4-0 start in conference play, including a two-point win in overtime over Bigfork back in December. The Lions can grab firm hold of the conference lead with another win over Bigfork, but the Vikings aren’t looking to give up their throne atop District 7B just yet.
  • The Southern B boys and girls divisional tournaments should be outstanding. Two of the teams expected to compete on the boys side, Columbus and Three Forks, meet on Saturday evening. Three Forks is atop District 5B at 8-2, while Columbus is second in District 4B at 8-2. This could be a look inside at what to expect at the divisional tournament in just more than a month.

Class C

  • Melstone has become familiar with the State C boys tournament in recent years, and this year is shaping up to be no different. Melstone is off to a 10-0 start and is a perfect 7-0 in District 4C play. The Broncs have a chance to take a commanding lead in the conference title race on Saturday night at Ekalaka, as the Bulldogs sit in second place, just a game back of Melstone. If Ekalaka can pull the upset, the Bulldogs will have still have a shot at the conference title.
  • Scobey, too, has become comfortable at the State C boys tournament recently, and the Spartans should be there again in March. Saturday, however, will be Scobey’s biggest test since beating Fairview early this season. The Spartans travel to Dodson to face the 9-1 Coyotes. Dodson was whacked by Scobey last time, and the Coyotes have a showdown with Melstone on Thursday night, too. It’s a tough weekend for Dodson, but it’s also a huge opportunity.
  • Simms can essentially put the District 10C regular-season title race to bed on Friday night, as the Tigers host Power. Power is second at 5-2 in conference play, but Simms has yet to lose to a 10C foe. If Simms wins, the Tigers will have to be thought of as a serious contender for the Northern C crown.

Girls

Class AA

  • The three-time defending State AA girls champion Helena High Bengals are reeling a little bit. Helena has lost games on back-to-back weekends, and the road doesn’t get any easier this weekend. The Bengals face crosstown rival Helena Capital on Thursday night, and the Bruins are a perfect 8-0 this year. Helena High will be fighting for the Western AA’s No. 4-seed with Kalispell Glacier and Butte, so a win against the Bruins would be pivotal.
  • The Billings Senior girls were nearly 2-0 in conference play, but the Broncs blew a lead against Billings West last week and are 1-1. The Broncs get a shot at conference-leading Great Falls CMR on Saturday night. CMR is looking to take over sole possession of first place in the Eastern AA, while Senior is looking to enter itself into what looks like a crowded field of conference title contenders.

Class A

  • If Round 1 between Billings Central and Hardin’s girls is any indication of what to expect, get your tickets for Friday’s showdown at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark. Hardin battled back from a double-digit deficit to give Billings Central its best game of the season to date. The Bulldogs are playing to keep their Southeast A regular-season title hopes alive, as a win would all but seal the title for the Rams. Don’t be surprised if these teams meet again deep in the postseason.
  • Browning reigns supreme over the Northwest A, at least for now. The Indians don’t get to rest, as they’ll host Ronan on Friday night. Ronan currently sits second in the conference and has a chance to leapfrog Browning for the top spot. Browning won a nail-biter at Ronan back in December. The Northwest A looks like it has three teams capable of making a postseason run.

Class B

  • Bigfork is the place to be for Western B hoops on Thursday night. The boys have a showdown between conference leaders, and the girls do, as well. District 7B has a three-way tie between Thompson Falls, Bigfork and Eureka, and the Valkyries and Lions play Thursday to determine sole possession of first place in the conference. Eureka has a win over Thompson Falls, but Bigfork beat the Lions by 13 back in December.
  • Another weekend, another tremendous matchup between Southern B girls teams. Unbeaten Big Timber can take another step toward locking up the District 5B regular-season title by defeating Three Forks on the road on Friday night. The Sheepherders’ last loss came in March of 2019 to Three Forks at the Southern B divisional tournament, and the Wolves played Big Timber closer than any team this year in their seven-point defeat in Big Timber.

Class C

  • It will likely be the case throughout the remainder of the regular season, but there’s a big-time showdown in the Eastern C this weekend, as Westby-Grenora visits Plentywood. Westby-Grenora is off to a 10-0 start and Plentywood is 7-3. The Thunder have an impressive resume already with wins over Plentywood, Froid-Medicine Lake and Scobey. The previous meeting between the two sides resulted in a three-point win for Westby-Grenora.
  • Roy-Winifred and Belt both have the potential to be playing on Saturday night at this year’s State C girls tournament, but for now they’ll have to settle for a meeting in Winifred on Friday night. Roy-Winifred, which finished second at last year’s State C tournament, is off to a perfect 10-0 start in dominating fashion, while Belt is 9-1. Belt’s only loss? At home against the Outlaws in December. This has all the makings of a fantastic basketball game.
  • Fort Benton has been another dominant team in the Northern C, as the Longhorns are also 10-0 so far. The Longhorns have a chance to essentially put the District 9C regular-season title race to bed on Saturday night when they host North Star. North Star is 9-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play, but the Knights were thumped by the Longhorns in their previous meeting this season. Fort Benton looks like it, too, has the potential to be playing on Saturday night. Don’t miss out on what should be a thrilling Northern C divisional tournament.