MISSOULA — Bigfork’s seemingly figured out the North.
The Vikings won their second Class B boys basketball state championship in five years, again cracking the Northern B’s state tournament dominance. Teams from the North have won nine of the past 11 State B titles.
Bigfork has now won the other two after defeating Shelby, 60-56, in Saturday’s championship at Dahlberg Arena.
“It’s just great divisions competing. Shelby played Bigfork in football, we played them in basketball, and they’ve all been tight,” said Sam Tudor, Bigfork’s fourth-year coach. “It’s been a great rivalry coming around, and it’s a great way to end the season for our seniors. I’m really happy for them.”
The Vikings are sending their three seniors — Beau Santistevan, Chase Chappuis and Logan Taylor — out with an undefeated season, but they had a fight on their hands Saturday. Though the official record book will show that the Vikings never trailed, Shelby gave them all they could handle for 32 minutes.
After building an 18-10 lead by the end of the first quarter, Bigfork kept the Coyotes at bay through the third quarter, leading by as many as 12 points. But TJ Reynolds kept Shelby in it until Aaron White and Logan Watson got hot from deep. The Coyotes made seven of 13 3-point attempts in the second half with Watson bringing Shelby within a point — 52-51 — late in the fourth quarter.
The Coyotes made things interesting, but Bigfork finished off the perfect season at the free throw line. Santistevan made all 11 of his attempts during the game, and the Vikings were 25 of 33 from the line as a team.
“They wanted to win. They’re a bunch of seniors. They were hitting their shots. We were battled-tested. Last year we were heartbroken, and we wanted to show that we can finish this year, and we did. I was really proud of our team,” said Bigfork junior Anders Epperly, who knocked down the game-clinching free throw, after missing his first attempt, with 4.2 seconds remaining.
“I’m confident,” Epperly added. “I knew I was going to get one down. The first one felt great, I thought it was going down. Then took my time the second one, and it went down.”
Epperly finished with 15 points, five assists and four rebounds. Santistevan contributed 18 points and nine rebounds, as Bigfork out-rebounded Shelby 32-19.
Reynolds had a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, but the star senior picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench late in the third quarter. While Reynolds sat for about four minutes of game time, the Coyotes’ supporting cast finally started to hit from the perimeter.
Kade Leck hit a 3 in the waning seconds of the third period to bring Shelby within 41-35 going to the fourth. By the time Reynolds returned with 5:48 to go, the Coyotes had trimmed the lead to 44-40.
While the Coyotes were knocking down 3s, Bigfork was holding them back at the free throw line. The Vikings made 15 of 18 free throw attemps in the fourth quarter while only attempting two shots — both makes — from the field.
“We kept fighting, and that’s what I’m proud about,” Tudor said. “That’s kind of their identity. These guys do not quit.”
Like 2014 when Bigfork defeated Columbus for the title, the Vikings finish the season with an unblemished record. They wrapped up 2018 at 24-0.
“It feels great,” Epperly said. “The summer, we put in the work. We wanted to come back on this stage, because we were heartbroken last year. We got beat in the semifinals of divisionals and the challenge game. We came hungry this year. That was a big deal to us.”
Shelby, which was making its third consecutive state tournament appearance, finishes 21-5.