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What caught my eye: Contenders begin to separate

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Posted at 5:18 PM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 19:18:27-05

There’s just more than a month before district tournaments kick off for Montana’s high school basketball teams, and they’re in the thick of conference play.

Missoula Hellgate’s boys asserted their dominance as the top team in the Western AA, while the Knights’ girls team picked up a win over the defending state champion. Hellgate’s girls couldn’t make it a perfect weekend, though.

The Southwestern A has four solid teams on the boys side, but two of those gained some separation. Last year’s third- and fourth-place finishers at the State A tournament have the upper hand. 2019 State A girls third- and fourth-place finishers Columbia Falls and Laurel added nice wins over the weekend, as the Wildkats continue to thump opponents in the Western A.

Southern B boys title contenders Lodge Grass and Huntley Project met in Lodge Grass, but it was a one-sided affair. Fairfield added another nice conference victory, too. On opposite sides of the state, the Missoula Loyola and St. Labre girls continued torrid starts to the season.

Look out for the Plenty Coups boys out of the Southern C, as the Warriors are off to an unbeaten start in conference play. St. Regis, though, fell for the first time. Charlo’s girls look like a title contender in the Western C, while Scobey’s girls continue to win out in the Eastern C.

Another week of basketball is in the books, as conference contenders are narrowed.

Reminder: Scores, stats, standings, story ideas and record-breaking performances can be emailed to sports@ktvh.com.

Boys

Class AA

  • Missoula Hellgate came up just short in last year’s State AA title game against Bozeman, but this year’s Knights look like they’re ready to take the next step. Hellgate throttled Western AA title contender Helena Capital on Saturday to place itself firmly atop the standings. The Knights have looked unstoppable on offense, and they’ve been playing on both ends of late.
  • Bozeman picked up a big Eastern AA victory at Billings Skyview, 57-50, on Saturday night to begin conference play unbeaten. The Hawks will dive deep into conference play in the coming weeks, but Saturday’s win over the Falcons has positioned them well for a postseason run.

Class A

  • Butte Central has been rolling since finishing third at last year’s State A boys tournament, and the Maroons picked up their biggest win of the season Friday night at Dillon, 41-37. Central will have to continue its run through the talented Southwestern A, but the Maroons look every bit of a state title contender midway through the season, especially with their win over Hamilton, too.
  • Hamilton is in contention for the short list of State A boys championship contenders, and the Broncs added another win to their resume with a 54-46 victory over Frenchtown. The battle for the No. 2 spot in the conference is going to be tight, as Frenchtown and Dillon will be in contention, too. Hamilton can solidify that position with a win at Dillon this weekend.

Class B

  • Two Southern B title contenders met in Lodge Grass on Friday night, but the Indians walloped Huntley Project 66-35, as the game was never really close. Project had some impressive wins to begin the season, but Lodge Grass made a statement as a legitimate state title contender. The Indians’ only loss of the season came down to Wyoming Indian High School in Ethete, Wyo.
  • Fairfield is beginning to find its footing in the Northern B, as the Eagles beat District 1B foe Rocky Boy 75-64 to pick up their fifth consecutive win. The Eagles beat Conrad on Saturday to make it six in a row. Recent Montana Tech commit Keeley Bake leads a high-powered offense that will likely continue to light up scoreboards across Northern B gymnasiums.

Class C

  • Plenty Coups remains unbeaten in District 6C play, as the Warriors handed Park City a 16-point defeat, 60-44. It’s possible Plenty Coups could run through conference play unbeaten. Plenty Coups was bounced quickly from last year’s state tournament, but the Warriors could have the experience to take a leap this season. Keep an eye on Plenty Coups.
  • Plains handed St. Regis its first loss in District 14C play, winning 64-52. Plains’ only defeat this season came to Seeley-Swan a month ago, and the Horsemen have wins over Darby, Hot Springs and St. Regis since. Plains looks like it could be another team to watch out in the Western C.

Girls

Class AA

  • Missoula Hellgate had a roller-coaster weekend. On Thursday, the Knights defeated three-time defending State AA girls champion Helena High, 49-37. Hellgate couldn’t ride that victory long, though, as the Knights fell to Helena Capital on Saturday. Helena Capital and Missoula Hellgate have separated themselves slightly from the rest of the Western AA early in the season, and both the Bruins and Knights look to be potential state championship teams. The Western AA girls will be a ton of fun throughout the season.

Class A

  • Columbia Falls has just blitzed its opponents in the Western A. The Wildkats are unbeaten and just handed Libby and Polson beatings via blowout. Columbia Falls has already emerged as a Western A title contender, but the Wildkats will face another of those in Browning this weekend.
  • Laurel is making its case to be one of the Eastern A’s four state tournament teams, as the Locomotives beat Livingston by 19 over the weekend. Laurel lost Mya Hansen over the summer, but it still has plenty of athletes at its disposal. Keep an eye on Laurel, as those top four teams in the Eastern A have grown quite familiar in recent years.

Class B

  • St. Labre added another win to its resume, as the Braves beat Lodge Grass by four to continue a solid start to the season. The Braves have a victory over Colstrip but fell to Forsyth. The Braves will have a chance to avenge that earlier loss and vault to the top of the standings with a meeting with both teams again this weekend. St. Labre looks like another contender in the Southern B, which appears to have one of the deepest pools of girls teams in the state.
  • Missoula Loyola’s girls have gotten off to a perfect start this season, and it’s no surprise with the Breakers bringing back nearly their entire roster from last year’s third-place team. Loyola’s latest victim? Anaconda, as the Breakers beat the Copperheads by nearly 30. Missoula Loyola is separating itself early as the top team in the Western B.

Class C

  • Charlo just missed out on last year’s State C girls tournament, but the Vikings could make an appearance later this season if they stay hot. Charlo defeated Seeley-Swan 49-30 to continue conference play unbeaten. The Vikings have a team that has gained valuable experience through the years and could be on the verge of breaking through. Watch them out west throughout the finish of the season.
  • Scobey’s girls continue to be the team to beat out in the Eastern C, at least until someone knocks them off. Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale nearly did over the weekend, but the Spartans held on for a two-point win. There are some very talented basketball teams in the Eastern C, and those tournaments could produce some chaos. Seeding will be of even greater importance.