BUTTE – Arlee and Manhattan Christian will add another chapter to their budding rivalry.
The undefeated Warriors will meet the Eagles for the Class C boys basketball state championship at the Civic Center on Saturday after both won Friday semifinal games. But it wasn’t without some intrigue.
Scobey, which also entered the state tournament with an unblemished record, blitzed Arlee from the tip in the early semifinal, building a 10-2 lead. The Warriors steadied in the second half, using a big run to take their first lead in the third quarter, and then holding off Scobey for an entertaining 76-71 win.
Manhattan Christian, meanwhile, overcame a sluggish start to blow out Park City in the late semifinal, 74-50.
The Warriors and Eagles met for last year’s state championship, with Arlee claiming a 71-67 win in Bozeman. Arlee also defeated Manhattan Christian at the Western C divisional tournament last week.
The Warriors had their work cut out to set up the rematch, though, as Scobey set the tone early and traded blows with the defending champions. Riley Linder scored 10 first-half points and Caden Handran added nine as the Spartans simply outran Arlee to a 39-33 lead after the first 16 minutes.
“We were over-dribbling, trying to get through the lanes. That’s what happens when you have guys like this that are really talented players that can be able to do things and create,” said Arlee coach Zanen Pitts. “When you play yourselves, these dudes are slapping, they’re beating you to the dribble, they’re taking away the lanes, so you’re getting exploited. That’s what happened. … We had to get them to settle down.”
Scobey couldn’t keep pace in the second half, though. The Warriors made 16 of 24 field goal attempts in the third and fourth periods, taking their first lead on a Will Mesteth 3-pointer in the third quarter.
Phillip Malatare scored 16 of his game-high 28 points after the break, including multiple highlight-reel plays in traffic. The Arlee senior added 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals in the win.
Mesteth finished with 18 points, Greg Whitesell added 14 and Lane Johnson 11.
“That’s the kind of games we thrive for,” said Pitts. “That’s Center ball back at home in Arlee, that’s out on the courts. It’s what you expect. That team, they play a run-and-jump, they have an extremely similar style. … They beat Arlee in 2011, so it’s been something that I’ve wanted these boys to be able to do the style so that they’re prepared in case we ever got the matchup, and we did. It was awesome.”
Scobey got 22 points from CJ Nelson, 14 from Linder and 12 from Jeremy Handy. The Spartans will play Fairview in a Saturday loser-out game at 9:30 a.m. Fairview defeated Heart Butte in loser-out action on Friday.
Manhattan Christian didn’t have near the trouble with Park City. The Eagles used a 19-4 second-quarter run to break open an 11-11 game. A Caleb Bellach dunk sparked Manhattan Christian, which also got back-to-back 3-pointers from Sam Leep during the run.
The Eagles – and Bellach specifically – poured it on the third. Bellach scored 21 of his game-high 35 points in the period, drilling five 3s.
“I was just letting the game come to me,” Bellach said. “My teammates found me when I was open. I just settled into my groove and hit the open shot when I had it.”
“It was a lot of fun. He’s got kind of that mentality,” Manhattan Christian coach Jeff Bellach said. “Sometimes it’s hard for him to kind of play with the structure we have, and he got to the point that he was so hot and had such a good feel for what was going on that I kind of let him go.”
Leep and Caden Hill each contributed 10 points off the bench for the Eagles.
Rylan Gauthier scored 13 points to lead Park City, which will face Melstone in a loser-out game at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Broncs defeated Belt in Friday loser-out action.
The winners of Saturday’s loser-out games will meet in the consolation at 6:30 p.m. Arlee and Manhattan Christian tip off in the championship at 8 p.m.
“It’s going to be really loud in here. … I expect a big crowd,” Caleb Bellach said. “They’re going to go on runs. Hopefully we’ll go on runs. It’s going to be an awesome game. We’ve been waiting for it all year.”
“We’re bringing it (Saturday). That game we just had, we don’t talk about it the minute we leave the locker room. We talk about 100 percent about (Manhattan Christian) here in the next hour and a half, and you’ll see what happens (Saturday) night,” added Pitts.