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State B girls: Missoula Loyola, Baker rekindle 2006 with state championship on the line

Missoula Loyola girls basketball
Baker vs. Ennis girls basketball
Posted at 6:50 PM, Mar 08, 2024

BILLINGS — Sometimes a team just has to take a loss to heart.

Cue the Missoula Loyola Breakers.

Two weeks ago they lost to a Class B team for the first time this season when Anaconda won the Western B divisional. But here the Breakers are, one win away from a state championship.

Loyola defeated Malta 56-46 Friday afternoon at First Interstate Arena in the semifinals of the state tournament, for the Breakers’ first title-game appearance since they were deemed co-champs in 2020 when the title games were cancelled due to COVID.

They’ll play Baker on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in a rematch of the 2006 title game.

Baker advanced by beating Ennis 61-30 in the second semifinal on Friday. Baker’s last championship appearance was the ’06 loss to the Breakers, and in a twist, current Spartans coach Jason Coulter was a Baker assistant then just getting his coaching career started.

“I remember it well,” Coulter said. “It was the only game we lost that year. I just told the girls it’s time for us to go get one back.”

Malta plays a loser-out contest at 9 a.m. Saturday against Anaconda at Rocky Mountain College. Ennis will take on Huntley Project in another loser-out game at 9 a.m. at Metra. The two morning winners play for third place at 3:30 p.m.

Missoula Loyola 56, Malta 46

Loyola’s season was punctuated with three wins over rival Anaconda. But that dominance ended when the Copperheads beat the Breakers in overtime for the Western B title. Loyola’s loss meant a first-round matchup at state with championship contender Huntley Project.

Not a great draw. But the Breakers won that game by two points and 48 hours later they’re set to play for a state title.

“It was kind of a good life lesson for the girls,” Loyola second-year coach Aaron Ward said of the loss. “You can empty it all on the floor and sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Against Malta, the Breakers used a 13-0 run spanning the first and second quarters to build a 14-point lead. Malta managed to trim that to 27-17 by halftime, but the M’ettes still had difficulty controlling Gio Horner, who had 14 points by halftime.

Missoula Loyola girls basketball
Missoula Loyola's Gio Horner and Ora Lindauer share a laugh in the final moments of the Breakers' semifinal win over Malta in the Class B state semifinals on Friday at First Interstate Arena in Billings.

Horner ended up with 27 points for the Breakers, who never really let the double-digit lead go. Spencer Laird scored seven points to go along with 13 rebounds, and Ora Lindauer had eight points and eight rebounds.

After the game, Ward didn't know yet which team the Breakers would face for the championship. He spoke generally about playing either Baker or Ennis, two Southern B teams that play a “distinct style.”

“They both full-court pressure, they’re both scrappy, they’re going to rebound hard,” said Ward, whose team’s only other losses this season were to Class A Havre and Miles City. “Both teams have tremendous guard play, and you get bigs. They’re going to match up well with what we’ve got.”

Denvry Tuss had 13 points and rebounds to lead Malta. Neva Jacobson contributed

Malta was attempting to reach the title game for the first time since 2017, the season after its last championship in 2016. Instead, the M’ettes will have to win two games on Saturday to bring home a tournament trophy.

Baker 61, Ennis 30

Ennis sophomore Marisa Snider has made the MetraPark arena her home away from home the past couple of weeks.

Prior to Friday, in her combined five Southern B divisional games and a first-round state tournament game, Snider averaged 29.0 points per game.

So Baker’s strategy was pretty simple.

Saraya Afrank was tasked with following Snider wherever she went. Often Afrank had her head turned away from the action, instead intently keeping her eyes on Snider while trying to deny her the ball.

The effort paid off. Snider had just four shots at halftime and finished with 14 points, and Baker’s ball-hawking defense also forced 24 Ennis turnovers.

Baker vs. Ennis girls basketball
Baker and Ennis played in the semifinals of the Class B girls basketball state tournament at First Interstate Arena in Billings on March 8, 2024.

“Defense is what got us where we are,” said Coulter, adding there was no better player to put on Snider than Afrank. “We really take a lot in our defense. I just thought out whole team did a really good job of rotating and just doing a really good job defensively.”

Madison O’Connor scored 25 points to lead the Spartans, while Afrank put in 10 points to go along with her defensive performance.

Ennis has made one championship appearance. The Mustangs beat Manhattan Christian for the Class C title in 1990.