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What caught my eye: Conference title races shaken up by upsets

Posted at 6:59 PM, Feb 05, 2019
The Big Timber Herders remained perfect with a 70-58 win over Joliet on Friday night. (Photo: MTN Sports)

A handful of regular-season conference title races were tightened over the weekend, as several upsets have put multiple teams in contention heading into the regular season’s final weekend for all classes except Class AA.

2018 Class B girls runner-up Colstrip finds itself surging at the right time of the year after some bumps in the road early. Hardin avenged an earlier sweep to Billings Central to complicate the Eastern A boys and girls races, while the Billings West boys picked up possibly its two biggest wins of the season. Out East, the District 2C girls have been extremely competitive all season and saw one of their two unbeatens fall over the weekend.

Class AA

Boys

  • Billings West needed to win both games this past weekend to keep hope alive for the Eastern AA regular-season title. And the Bears did just that, defeating Great Falls CMR and Great Falls High on back-to-back nights to get right back in the thick of the conference. West is now in a three-way tie with Bozeman and Great Falls CMR and sits just one game behind Great Falls High. It looked like the Bison might run away with the conference, but West has turned it back into a four-team race.
  • The Billings Senior boys are finally in the win column. The Broncs had three losses by less than 10 points but were able to prevail over Butte on Friday night, holding on to win by six. The Broncs and Bulldogs can also play spoiler over the next few weeks and try to keep Eastern AA foes from the regular-season title.

Girls

  • Missoula Hellgate made a statement against Kalispell Glacier on Saturday afternoon to take control of third place in the Western AA, pulling away from the Wolfpack in the second half for a 21-point win. Hellgate’s four losses this season have come to Class AA’s best teams in Helena High, Helena Capital, Bozeman and Billings West.
  • The Billings West girls kept pace with Butte in the Eastern AA standings by defeating both Great Falls CMR and Great Falls High on the road over the weekend. Coupled with Butte’s loss to Bozeman, the Bears are now tied with Butte and still have another head-to-head meeting with the Bulldogs this season.

Class A

Boys

  • Defending champion Hardin is back atop the MontanaSports.com power rankings. The Bulldogs avenged their only loss of the season by beating former No. 1 Billings Central at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. Hardin now controls the Eastern A regular-season title race with its win over the Rams, although it is likely the two will meet again at the Eastern A divisional tournament. Billings Central will host third-place Laurel in the season’s final game, which the Rams will need to win to keep alive any hope for the regular-season crown.
  • Butte Central won its first 13 games of the season before suffering a loss to Hamilton on Jan. 26. Dillon made it back-to-back losses for the Maroons on Thursday night, as the Beavers beat Butte Central at home by 10. Suddenly, Butte Central finds itself looking up at Hamilton in the Southwestern A standings and will need the Broncs to falter to have a shot at the regular-season title. Dillon, however, can continue to shake up the conference standings if it is able to take down Hamilton in their final meeting.

Girls

  • It was a tough start to the season for Hardin, but the 2018 Class A girls runner-up is back in the conference-title picture. The Bulldogs defeated Billings Central to move in front of the Rams in the Eastern A, but Hardin still sits behind Laurel. The postseason picture is a mess in the Eastern A, but Hardin needs Billings Central to beat Laurel in the season’s final game to have a chance at the regular-season crown.
  • The middle of the Southwestern A is extremely tight, as Hamilton, Frenchtown and Dillon are separated by just one game in the loss column. Hamilton, however, took a step toward the conference’s No. 3 seed with an overtime victory over Frenchtown. Four teams from the Southwestern A will move on to the Western A divisional tournament, so any separation down the stretch is critical for all three teams.

Class B

Boys

  • Fairfield locked up the District 1B regular-season title over the weekend with an eight-point win at second-place Shelby. The Eagles rebounded nicely from their first defeat of the season, where Choteau took Fairfield to overtime before topping the Eagles in the extra frame. Shelby’s loss also puts Choteau back in contention for the conference’s No. 2 seed at the district tournament. Finishing second at the district tournament could mean the difference between playing a below-.500 team in the first round of the divisional tournament or having to face a team with double-digit wins.
  • The Lodge Grass boys sent a message to District 4B last weekend when the Indians, second place in District 3B, blew out Huntley Project, which sits atop the 4B. Lodge Grass also beat St. Labre over the weekend and has made a case the past few weeks as one of Class B’s hottest teams.
  • A scoring showdown broke out in Joliet on Friday night, as Big Timber’s Kell Schwers led the Sheepherders to a 70-58 victory over Joliet by pouring in 30 points. Not to be outdone, Joliet’s Ry Olson finished with 42. Big Timber continues to roll along with a perfect 16-0 record, while Joliet is just 8-8 but is second in District 4B. With Olson’s offensive abilities, the J-Hawks can be a nightmare matchup in the postseason.

Girls

  • The District 3B girls race could not get any tighter. Colstrip, Forsyth and St. Labre all have two losses in conference play and the only thing separating the three teams in the standings is Colstrip has one more conference win. With the Fillies’ overtime win over Forsyth this weekend, Colstrip has beaten the Dogies twice this year. But Colstrip has also lost twice to St. Labre, which has lost twice to Forsyth. The 3B will likely need a tiebreaker to decide its regular-season champion.
  • Barring a slip-up at season’s end, the Townsend girls will be the District 5B regular-season champions. The Bulldogs’ 11-point win over rival Three Forks has Townsend needing just one win on the season’s final weekend to clinch the conference. Townsend also remains Class B’s only unbeaten team on the girls side and maintains its No. 1 ranking in the MontanaSports.com power rankings.
  • The District 4B girls race, too, is getting interesting. On Friday night, Columbus beat Roundup to drop the Panthers from the top of the conference and severely dash Roundup’s regular-season title hopes. Huntley Project essentially put the final nail in the coffin on Saturday, as the Red Devils beat Columbus to take sole possession of first place. All that separates Huntley Project from the 4B regular-season title is a date with 2-15 Shepherd.

Class C

Boys

  • District 2C has six of its 10 teams above .500 in conference play, creating a logjam at the top of the standings. Froid-Medicine Lake pulled into a three-way tie for second place with its six-point win at Westby-Grenora over the weekend. Froid-Medicine Lake’s win also leaves Fairview as the only team with one loss in conference play. Entering the regular season’s final weekend, six teams still have hopes of a regular-season title in the 2C.
  • Everyone in the 12C is chasing 16-0 Twin Bridges, but it’s the No. 2 seed that will be important come postseason action, as the district takes just two teams to the Western C divisional tournament. Philipsburg picked up a huge win over Ennis, defeating the Mustangs by one and grabbing control of second place in the conference. The Prospectors will hope to ride that momentum into the district tournament and a possible divisional tournament berth.
  • The Fort Benton boys still have just one loss on their resume, but the Longhorns were tested over the weekend. Fort Benton won at Box Elder by six and at Hays-Lodgepole by three in overtime to keep pace with unbeaten Chinook. The Longhorns are a game back of the Sugarbeeters, but the 9C regular-season title will come down to the season’s final game when Fort Benton hosts Chinook.

Girls

  • Froid-Medicine Lake’s girls are no longer unbeaten. The Redhawks suffered their first defeat of the season last Thursday at home to Westby-Grenora. With Froid-Medicine Lake’s loss, Savage, one of Class C’s two unbeatens remaining, controls the conference. Westby-Grenora is in great position to enter the district tournament as the No. 2 seed and could find itself as the conference champion if things fall the right way in the regular season’s final weekend.
  • For the first time since 2009, the Belt girls have lost to the same Class C opponent multiple times in the same season. Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap pulled off the regular-season sweep of the Huskies with a five-point win at Belt on Saturday. Although both teams have two losses in conference play, the Titans hold the head-to-head advantage over Belt and are in position to claim the regular-season title.
  • Shields Valley moved to the top of the District 11C standings with a 36-28 win at Manhattan Christian on Saturday. Manhattan Christian looked like it was in control of the conference, but a pair of losses in the past two weeks likely cost the Eagles the regular-season title. Shields Valley will enter the district tournament as the No. 1 seed, barring a loss to 1-14 White Sulphur Springs in the Rebels’ final game.