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Northern C boys: Winnett-Grass Range earns first state tournament berth since 2009

Posted at 6:40 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 21:46:22-05

GREAT FALLS — The Winnett-Grass Range boys are heading back to the State C basketball tournament for the first time since 2009 after a 53-49 win over District 8C rival Belt in a Northern C challenge game.

As the final buzzer sounded, head coach Brandon Bantz leapt into the air and let out an exuberant scream. The dream season continues for the Rams.

“Every small-town kid growing up playing on the driveway just dreams of playing at the State C tournament,” Bantz said. “It's a special one.”

And a special one for the Bantz family. Sophomore Jace Bantz acored 16 points and hauled in 21 rebounds Monday. Senior Brady Bantz scored 16 points, including 14 in the first half to lead the Rams. Jace Dunkel added nine points, while Randy Olson, an eighth grader, scored eight points for the Rams.

“Well, I'm biased. They're alright. You know, they do a pretty good job,” coach Bantz said. “What a special year to be able to coach your kids, though. I'll tell you there's tough times, but there's a lot of fun times. And this weekend was probably one I'll remember forever.”

It was the fourth meeting between the Rams and Huskies this season. The teams split the regular-season series before Belt defeated WGR in the District 8C title game last week at Great Falls High School.

The Rams came back after a dispiriting loss to the eventual champion Box Elder Bears on Friday night.

“We just told ourselves that we weren't going to go home. We weren't going home. We weren't going home Saturday,” coach Bantz said. “The kids even said we played better with our backs against the wall. And this is deja vu — two years ago same situation, Belt beat us to go to the state tournament in the challenge game. So it was nice to turn it around.”

Reese Paulson led Belt with 15 points, with Nate Gill and Clayton Jassen adding eight points apiece.

Winnett-Grass Range will face Western division champion Manhattan Christian in the first round of the State C tournament next Thursday.