(Editor’s note: This is the fourth of four installments looking at which teams have built the best bodies of work during the first month of the 2018-19 high school basketball season. These are not rankings — although many of the top-ranked teams will be featured here — but an analysis of schedules and strength of victories. The 2018 portion of the schedule concluded on Dec. 22, and the 2019 schedule starts as early as Jan. 3. For the Class AA breakdown, please click here. For the Class A breakdown, please click here. For the Class B breakdown, please click here.)
Manhattan Christian’s boys look ready to take the final step in becoming a championship team. After back-to-back runner-up finishes at the State C tournament, the Eagles have flexed their muscle across both Class B and Class C early in the season, including a victory over another team that played Saturday night at last year’s state tournament.
Another perennial power has started fast on the girls side. Belt has multiple wins over Class B teams and looks poised to return to the State C tournament after missing out last year for the first time in a decade.
Boys: Manhattan Christian
Manhattan Christian opened its season with a pair of victories over Class B opponents. The Eagles first took down Whitehall by 40 points and then knocked off Columbus by 26. However, Manhattan Christian still had its biggest test, possibly of the season, looming before Christmas.
The Eagles hosted Melstone, last year’s third-place finisher at the State C tournament, in the Manhattan Tip-off Tournament. In a game featuring two of the most high-profile athletes and top teams in Class C, Manhattan Christian built an early lead on its way to a 15-point win against the Broncs. This represents the closest game of the season for the Eagles, as they’re scoring 63.7 points per game while giving up just 30.
The Eagles are led by future Montana State Bobcat Caleb Bellach, who is averaging 22.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game, but depth has been the strength for the Eagles over the past few seasons and that looks to continue. Junior Sam Leep is averaging 15.2 points and 4.3 assists, while sophomore point guard Caidin Hill is averaging 7.7 points and 7.8 assists. Defense has also been a strong point for Manhattan Christian, as teams are shooting just 34.4 percent against the Eagles this season.
Honorable mentions: Scobey, Twin Bridges, Park City, Chinook
After missing the state tournament last season for the first time in a decade, the Belt Huskies look to be on a mission to return. Belt opened the season with a dominant performance against Class B contender Florence, winning by 22. The following night, the Huskies took down their second consecutive Class B team with a 21-point victory over Bigfork.
Belt then turned to revenge against Winnett-Grass Range, as the Rams kept the Huskies home from last year’s state tournament by winning the Northern C divisional title over Box Elder and preventing a challenge game. Belt routed Winnett-Grass Range by 30.
But Belt wasn’t done with its impressive December performance. The Huskies took on perennial Class B contender Fairfield and beat the Eagles by 30. The lone close contest for Belt was its last game before heading into the holiday break, as the Huskies needed overtime to top Roy-Winifred on the road.
Belt has been led by Kolby Pimperton, who scored 24 points with six 3-pointers against Fairfield and 22 points against Winnett-Grass Range, and Morgan Cooper. The duo has consistently scored in double figures to pace the Huskies’ offense. Shelby Paulson has also had a 20-point game, proving the Belt offense can again hurt you with multiple weapons.
Honorable mentions: Box Elder, Fort Benton, Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap, Froid-Medicine Lake