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What caught my eye: Conference champs stumble in district tournaments

Posted: 7:01 PM, Feb 25, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-26 12:11:31-05
Philipsburg basketball

Class B and Class C high school basketball teams are in the thick of the postseason, while Class A saw its regular season wrap up this past weekend. Class AA has one weekend left in its regular season.

Class AA teams are still battling for postseason positioning, but the Missoula Sentinel and Great Falls High boys teams took a big blow from teams at the bottom of their respective conferences. The top teams on the girls side were able to hold steady atop the standings, although the Billings West girls had to battle every second.

In the final weekend of regular-season basketball for Class A teams, Laurel’s boys finally picked up a conference victory. Hamilton and Frenchtown also kept pace with Butte Central. The Dillon girls will enter the postseason heading the wrong direction after a pair of stunning results, while Browning’s girls continue to cruise.

Harlem’s boys stole the headlines last week, but the Wildcats were shocked in the championship of the District 2B tournament. Colstrip was handed a loss that kept it out of the District 3B title game for the first time in years. More drama in District 3B, as St. Labre will be at home when the Southern B divisional tournament starts.

Melstone’s boys saw their unbeaten record fall in what may have been the shocker of the weekend. Heart Butte’s boys continued their strong play, as the Warriors are moving on to the Northern C divisional tournament. The Belt and Roy-Winifred girls lived up to the billing at the District 8C title game, while Melstone’s sensational sophomore lit up the scoreboards at the District 6C tournament.

That and more highlight what caught my eye postseason basketball ramps up.

Boys

Class AA

  • Missoula Sentinel’s conference title hopes were already slim, but now the Spartans are going to be in a battle for the Western AA’s No. 2-seed. The Spartans fell to Missoula Big Sky 49-45 over the weekend to fall into a tie with Helena Capital for the conference’s second spot. It was just Missoula Big Sky’s second win of the season. Sentinel will need to rebound quickly before its date with Missoula Hellgate.
  • Great Falls High is also no longer in the hunt for a conference title, as the Bison fell to Billings Senior 66-64 over the weekend. Along with Senior’s win over Great Falls CMR, the Broncs have climbed to 5-5 in conference play. Great Falls High will now need to fend off Billings Skyview for the No. 2 seed at the Eastern AA divisional tournament.

Class A

  • Laurel capped its regular season with its first Southeast A conference victory. It came in thrilling fashion, too, as the Locomotives topped Billings Central 68-66 in overtime. Laurel will enter the divisional tournament showing that, outside of Hardin, the rest of the teams representing the Eastern A at the state tournament are up for grabs.
  • The Southwest A has been billed as one of the best conferences all season, at least at the top. Butte Central, Hamilton and Frenchtown all finished with 15-plus wins and just three losses and in a tie atop the conference at 8-2. Frenchtown and Hamilton won games over the weekend to keep pace with Butte Central, and it’s entirely possible those three teams finish with trophies at the Western A divisional tournament.

Class B

  • District tournaments can bring wild results. Harlem’s boys had cruised through District 2B this season except for a lone hiccup against Wolf Point. The Wildcats were still 14-2 entering the district tournament, while no other team in the conference had double-digit wins. Wolf Point, though, upset Harlem in the district title game 68-58, putting Harlem on the same side of the Northern B divisional bracket as District 1B champ Fairfield.
  • For the first time since 2014, Colstrip did not play in the District 3B boys title game. Lame Deer took down Colstrip in the semifinals 63-55 to clinch a berth at the Southern B divisional tournament. Colstrip finished third to earn a trip to the divisional tournament, but Colstrip will have to face off with District 5B champion Three Forks in the first round at 9 a.m. The Colts will have an uphill climb.

Class C

  • Melstone finished the season a perfect 18-0 and won the opening game at the District 4C tournament to improve to 19-0. The Broncs would fall in the semifinals to Broadus, 38-34, for their first loss of the year. Melstone rebounded from that loss and took third place to earn a trip to the Southern C divisional tournament, but the Broncs won’t have the luxury of facing a lesser team from District 6C as they’ll play No. 2-seed Bridger.
  • Speaking of Bridger, the Scouts nearly pulled off an improbable comeback against Plenty Coups in the District 6C title game. Bridger trailed by 18 before going on a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter to grab a lead, but Plenty Coups made the plays down the stretch to hold on. Bridger will get Melstone in the first round of the divisional tournament in what should be one of the first round’s best matchups.
  • Heart Butte wasn’t the regular-season champion out of District 10C, but the Warriors were crowned champions at the District 10C tournament over the weekend after beating Simms in the title game in overtime just a week after losing in the final game of the regular season. The Warriors will enter the Northern C divisional tournament having won six of their past seven games.

Girls

Class AA

  • Helena Capital still owns the top spot in the Western AA, as the Bruins took down rival Helena High over the weekend, 51-32. Capital will host Kalispell Flathead and Kalispell Glacier this weekend with a chance to lock up the regular-season title. Placing first in the regular season is crucial to avoid a matchup with a top-three team in the conference, as there’s a dropoff between the third- and fourth-place teams.
  • Billings West kept its perfect conference record intact, but just barely. The Golden Bears narrowly held off Bozeman, 37-35. West has locked up the conference’s regular-season title, while Bozeman is just barely holding on to the conference’s No. 4 seed and could jump into the top three by season’s end. It may not have been pretty, but West just keeps finding ways to win.

Class A

  • What a wild finish to the season for the Dillon girls. The Beavers had been cruising along until this past weekend. Dillon lost to Livingston, which is 0-6 in the Southeast A, 43-40 and followed that with a double-digit loss to Corvallis, which finished the regular season 6-4 in Southwest A play. Dillon needs to rebound at the Western A divisional tournament, or the Beavers could be sitting at home when the state tournament begins.
  • Browning will be a threat to Dillon at the Western A divisional, as the Indians put the bow on an unbeaten record in conference play over the weekend. The Indians had two wins over Columbia Falls, the only two losses for the Wildkats this year. Browning is on the short list of teams capable of taking a trophy home from the State A tournament in March.

Class B

  • St. Labre finished second in District 3B in the regular season, but the Braves won’t be advancing to the Southern B divisional tournament. St. Labre’s only two losses in the regular season came to Forsyth, but the Braves were blown out by Colstrip, 55-38, in the semifinals of the district tournament. That’s a shock, as St. Labre had beaten Colstrip twice by 20-plus points in the regular season. St. Labre then lost to Lodge Grass 46-42 in the consolation game, as the Indians stole the final bid to the Southern B divisional tournament.
  • There were just two unbeaten teams in Class B entering the district tournaments and both teams still have spotless records. Missoula Loyola came from behind to defeat Anaconda in the District 6B title game, 49-44, while Big Timber held off Three Forks in the District 5B title game, 45-34. Keep in mind the No. 1 seed out of the Western B could potentially face the No. 1 seed out of the Southern B in the semifinals at the State B tournament.

Class C

  • Melstone has built well upon last year's fourth-place finish at the Southern C divisional tournament. The Broncs took down two-time defending District 4C champion Ekalaka in the District 4C title game behind sophomore Draya Wacker’s 44 points. Wacker is just one piece of Melstone’s young core that is seeking the program’s first trip to the state tournament in more than 40 years.
  • The run of the Belt girls basketball team is unparalleled, especially in Class C. The Huskies won their 11th consecutive district title Saturday by beating Roy-Winifred 47-45 in the District 8C championship game. Belt’s only loss this season was in the first of three meetings against the Outlaws, and the Huskies have won the last two. Belt will be on the same side as unbeaten Fort Benton at the Northern C divisional tournament.
  • Ennis won the District 12C regular-season title and only lost one game in conference play during the regular season. The Mustangs won’t be playing in the Western C divisional tournament, though, as the Mustangs couldn’t overcome a semifinal loss to Twin Bridges. Ennis won the consolation game and forced a challenge game on Monday night, but Philipsburg claimed second place with a 12-point win to join Twin Bridges at the Western C divisional tournament.