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What caught my eye: Hardin boys, Belt girls make early-season statements

Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 11, 2018
The Big Timber boys basketball team breaks a huddle at the Imerys Classic in Three Forks. (ALEC BOFINGER/MTN Sports)

The Montana high school basketball season is in full swing, as tipoff tournaments commenced around the state over the weekend. A few teams made statements on the season’s opening weekend, such as the Belt girls throttling two Class B opponents, Hardin’s boys doubling up Livingston and the Manhattan Christian boys sending a message to the rest of Class C.

Boys

  • Both Missoula Hellgate and Billings West are seen as top contenders for the Class AA boys state title. The Knights picked up a big non-conference win against the Bears over the weekend, 63-55. Rollie Worster, a University of Montana commit, had a game-high 22 points for the Knights.
  • Hardin began its Class A state title defense in style. The Bulldogs beat down Livingston to open the season, 91-45. Famous LeftHand had 22 points for the defending champions. With the amount of talent and experience returning for Hardin this season, more results like this can likely be expected.
  • Hamilton lost just one game last season and finished third in Class A and returns a handful of contributors. But Whitefish took down the Broncs, 71-65, in overtime over the weekend. Tanner Goligoski, one of Class A’s top deep-range snipers, had a game-high 37 points, but it wasn’t enough for Hamilton to overcome the balanced Whitefish attack, led by Lee Walburn’s 24 points.
  • Big Timber, Fairfield and Three Forks should be among the contenders for the Class B state tournament come March. This weekend, all three teams were in Three Forks for the Imerys Classic. Big Timber, boasting a senior-laden lineup, took down Fairfield, 70-62, on Friday night. Fairfield rebounded nicely to beat Three Forks by two on Saturday. Fairfield’s Ryder Meyer got a steal and Keeley Bake finished with a layup with two seconds remaining to beat the Wolves.
  • Scobey and Fairview, 2018’s Eastern C representatives at the state tournament, took to the floor for an early-season showdown. Scobey defeated Fairview 51-33, getting three players in double digits. This is a big win for the youthful Spartans early in the season, especially over an experienced Fairview squad.
  • Manhattan Christian, too, made a statement win over the weekend. The Eagles, who finished runner-up in Class C last season, took on 2017’s third-place finisher, Melstone. Both teams are expected to again compete for the Class C crown this season. Montana State University commit Caleb Bellach led the Eagles to a 55-40 victory, scoring a game-high 28 points. After back-to-back runner-up finishes, the Eagles have put the rest of Class C on notice. It’s also likely these two will be at the Class C state tournament come March.

Girls

  • Billings West was the Eastern AA champion last year, while Missoula Sentinel won the Western AA and finished runner-up at the state tournament for the second consecutive season. West picked up a big win for its early-season resume, defeating Sentinel 55-41.
  • Havre went unbeaten on its way to the 2018 Class A state title. The Blue Ponies were tested by Billings Central this weekend, but Havre came away victorious, 63-59. Havre was the preseason favorite, according to Class A coaches around the state, but Billings Central looks to have as talented of team as any in the classification and will look to get back to the State A tournament.
  • Three Forks saw its 30-game winning streak snapped at the hands of Fairfield at the Imerys Classic, losing 47-41 to the Eagles. This game featured the past two Class B state champions, as Fairfield beat Malta in 2017 and Three Forks topped Colstrip in last year’s championship.
  • In a rematch of the 2018 Class B consolation game, Townsend again got the better of Deer Lodge. It took overtime to bring home a trophy in March, but Townsend got it done in regulation this time, winning 44-39. After jumping out to a 24-5 lead after the first quarter, the Bulldogs allowed Deer Lodge to climb back in the game before holding the Wardens off down the stretch. With the return of senior Tavia Rooney, Townsend is among the top teams in Class B. Deer Lodge, too, will be a team to watch throughout the season.
  • After missing the Class C state tournament for the first time since 2007, the Belt Huskies appeared to be on a mission to open the season. Belt certainly made a statement, beating down Class B opponent Florence, which is thought to be among the top teams in Class B this season, 51-29. Belt then toppled its second Class B opponent in two days, taking down Bigfork by more than 20 points. Don’t bet on Belt being at home in March again this season.
  • In 2018, Ekalaka won the Southern C, while Winnett-Grass Range won the Northern C and finished runner-up at the State C tournament. The Rams got the better of the Bulldogs in their meeting over the weekend, winning 39-24. Both teams should be among those vying for Class C supremacy again this season.