The first chapter of the 2018-19 high school basketball season in Montana is well under way in December’s second week.
Already there have been a few surprising results, such as the Whitefish boys beating Hamilton in overtime and the Three Forks girls team seeing its 30-game win streak snapped.
With a full slate this weekend, there are a number of intriguing games across the state, including the onset of conference play.
- Missoula Hellgate travels to Bozeman Friday night in a premier showdown among two of the top teams in Class AA. Bozeman finished second at last year’s state tournament, but the Hawks have several new contributors this season. Hellgate can send an early-season message to the rest of the AA with a win on the road against a perennial power.
- Billings Senior and Helena will also meet on Friday night. Senior finished fourth at last year’s state tournament, but the Broncs have started 0-2 this season. Helena, however, looks like it is carrying with it the momentum from the end of last season. The Bengals beat Butte and played Bozeman tough for most of the game. This is a rare meeting between Helena and Senior.
- Helena Capital visits Billings Senior this weekend, as the Bruins take on teams from Billings for the first time in a number of years. Senior is still searching for success without star Kola Bad Bear, while Capital is looking to build on last year’s fourth-place finish at the state tournament. Capital will play Billings Skyview the following night.
- Joining Capital in Billings is two-time defending state champion Helena High, as the Bengals will take on Skyview Friday night and Senior on Saturday. The Bengals, too, are playing the Billings schools for the first time in several years.
- A huge matchup in the Eastern A is set to take place on Friday night, as Billings Central visits Lewistown. Both the Rams and Eagles are among the top teams in Class A this season after returning a handful of players from deep postseason runs last year. This is just the first of multiple meetings between the two this season.
- Hamilton equaled its loss total from last season with an overtime loss to Whitefish last week. The Broncs will have another stiff test this weekend, albeit against Class B Missoula Loyola. Loyola was impressive in its two victories to open the season and looks poised to get back to the state tournament after missing out last season.
- Havre is coming off an unbeaten season capped with a state championship. The Blue Ponies will face an early-season test on Saturday afternoon, as they travel to Belgrade to take on the Panthers. Explosive Belgrade guard Gabby Weber can be tough to slow down and teammate Bailey Christensen is a walking double-double.
- Hardin is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in Class A and again looks to have a strong team. The Bulldogs will host Miles City on Friday night. Miles City has a pair of narrow losses, but the young Cowgirls have an opportunity to assert themselves as a team to be reckoned with in Class A if they can knock off Hardin.
- Big Timber made a statement last week with a comeback victory over Fairfield at the Imerys Classic in Three Forks. The Herders will have another chance for a resume-building win, as they host Three Forks on Saturday evening. Three Forks was last year’s Southern B champion, but Big Timber is returning a loaded senior class and looks as tough as any team in Class B.
- Fairfield, too, picked up a big win at the Imerys Classic last weekend, coming from behind to beat Three Forks in the final seconds. The Eagles will travel to Rocky Boy on Saturday for a rematch of last year’s Northern B challenge game, which the Northern Stars won.
- Wolf Point started the 2018-19 season with an absolute bang, throttling last year’s Class B runner-up Colstrip, 60-28. Wolf Point travels to Harlem on Saturday to face the Wildcats. The Wolves have certainly looked the part of an early-season favorite in Class B and can affirm that with another dominant showing this weekend.
- After suffering a blowout loss to Wolf Point last weekend, Colstrip will look to rebound at St. Labre on Thursday night. Both the Fillies and Braves were at the Class B state tournament last season, and both teams are in search of an early-season victory against a district foe.
- Hays-Lodgepole is just two years removed from a Northern C championship and a fourth-place finish at the state tournament. The Thunderbirds have a big opportunity on Friday night to return to prominence in the North, traveling to Chinook to take on the Sugarbeeters. Chinook has a roster loaded with talented seniors and is hungry to make it to the state tournament after narrowly missing last season.
- Fairview lost to Scobey last weekend in a matchup of last year’s Eastern C state representatives. Circle is hoping it can leap into the conversation of the Eastern C’s best, and the Wildcats can take a step in that direction with a victory over the Warriors at home on Saturday. Fairview, however, needs a win to rebound and get going in the right direction before Christmas break hits.
- Fresh off throttling two Class B teams, Belt gets a shot at last year’s Class C runner-up Winnett-Grass Range. The Huskies didn’t get a shot at the Rams at the Northern C divisional tournament last season, as the Rams beat Box Elder to prevent a challenge game. Coach Jeff Graham’s Huskies have likely had this game circled on their calendar to begin the season.
- Twin Bridges and Ennis were both at the Class C state tournament last season but have a few new faces this season. Both the Falcons and Mustangs lost a pair of all-state players off last year’s teams. Ennis, however, returns Jourdain Klein and Whitney McKitrick and is among the favorites to come out of the Western C.