HAMILTON -- The Arlee Warriors were tasked with running the table at the Western B divisional boys basketball tournament.
They did just that.
Arlee defeated Deer Lodge 55-48 to win the divisional tournament championship game Saturday while simultaneously punching its ticket to the State B tournament In Butte in two weeks.
The win also kicked off Arlee's return to the Class B level with a bang as the Warriors made the jump up from Class C this season.
"I'm really proud of the guys," Arlee coach Zachary Conko Camel said. "They did exactly what we've been doing all year getting ready and believing in the process. We have a lot of seniors that wanted to take their step because they were next and they wanted to be part of this dynasty. So it was all on the seniors."
Senior Cody Tanner led Arlee with 22 points, while fellow seniors Tapit Haynes added 17 and Zach Running Crane tallied 10.
Deer Lodge tied the game 19-19 after a layup from sophomore Logan Nicholson, but Haynes responded with a quick 3-pointer, and Arlee ultimately went into half up 24-21.
The Wardens regained the lead 35-34 after a layup from junior Aidan Thompson, but Haynes followed that up with a floater to give the Warriors the lead once again early in the fourth quarter.
Then, after Deer Lodge senior Ben Anderson made it 37-36 Deer Lodge with six minutes to play, Haynes knocked down another 3-point basket to give the Warriors the lead for good. Tanner soon extended the lead to 43-37 with a mid-range jumper with 4:13 to go.
Thompson got the Wardens back within three at 43-40 with 3:58 to play, but that was as close as Deer Lodge got down the stretch.
Running Crane added the final basket, a dunk at the buzzer, to put the exclamation point on Arlee's tournament run. The Warriors (10-14) entered the divisional tournament as the No. 4 seed out of District 6B. Now, they're headed to state in their first season since reclassifying.
Arlee dropped a lot of close games this season, but Camel said the team has learned how to close things out down the stretch.
"We learned how to finish these last couple of weeks and that's what's going to keep taking us forward," Camel said.
Though Deer Lodge (17-6) lost, the Wardens also will head to the State B tournament in Butte. Missoula Loyola won the consolation game against Thompson Falls, and the Wardens defeated the Rams on Friday in the semifinal, meaning there's no chance for a challenge game.
It'll be the first state tournament trip for the Wardens since 2012. Nicholson led Deer Lodge with 19 points.
"Being one of the last eight teams in the state is a pretty good feeling," Deer Lodge coach Dakota Norris said. "We have to go back to the drawing board. Hat's off to Arlee. They had a lot of momentum going in and they did a great job."