MISSOULA – The Arlee Warriors have won back-to-back Class C state basketball titles and are once again near the top in the Class C rankings. Missoula Loyola looks like a serious contender in Class B, so naturally, the two teams put together quite a show Tuesday night.
The Rams led most of the way, but the Warriors came back in the fourth quarter. With seconds left, Arlee had the ball down by one. The play was meant to go to Lane Johnson cutting down the middle, but when it broke down, the Warriors’ Darshan Bolen managed to kick it out to Cody Tanner. The junior buried a buzzer beater to win, a moment he had dreamed about for years.
“That’s like a one-in-a-lifetime kind of buzzer beater, clock ticking down, hitting the shot,” said Tanner. “Basically, my two older brothers come in here, last time they were here they beat them. So it was a big game coming in, and you can’t go out with a loss.”
“(Tanner) was just in the right spot at the right time,” said senior guard Greg Whitesell. “He always lives for the big shots. And he lived up to it now.”
“I mean, he’s royalty. He’s a Tanner,” said head coach Zanen Pitts. “His brother is the state MVP, so I would expect him to hit that big shot. He’s grown up playing against Tyler Tanner and his other brother Philip Malatare. So that was pretty special.”
The thrilling victory improved the Warriors to 16-1, and they don’t feel they have reached their top potential yet.
The Warriors might not be the overwhelming favorite in Class C this year. They rank second to Manhattan Christian in our most recent MontanaSports.com power rankings. But they also have only lost once, way back on Dec. 8 versus Class B Rocky Boy. And as they showed versus the Rams, when the lights shine brightest this team knows how to finish.
“There were moments in the game where I would have caught myself five or six years ago stressed out,” admitted Pitts. “And I’m telling boys, ‘Hey, smile, man. Where else would you be on Tuesday night?’ I’m really excited. I wouldn’t say we’re peaking yet, but we’re definitely on the uphill climb getting closer to the top. The guys are starting to mix together a little bit better. We’re starting to get deeper on the bench. We’re getting great minutes out of the guys coming off.”
“I’m pretty confident. I think we’re a pretty deep team,” said Whitesell. “Guys are waiting for their chance to get up on the big stage. So hopefully they make the most of it.”
Arlee wraps up the regular season on Thursday versus Charlo, where it can also finish perfect in conference play. Then district tournaments tipoff next week. The 14C plays at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo.