Montana’s eight state championship basketball teams this winter came from eight different towns, from the state’s far northwestern corner to its distant northeastern reaches, all the way down to the southern city of Bozeman.
Scobey/Opheim, the winner of the Class C boys tournament, is nearly as close to North Dakota as it is Canada, and Class B boys champion Wolf Point is just a stone’s throw away from there. Factor in Saco/Whitewater, the Class C girls champ, and three out of the state’s eight champions hail from the remote northeast Hi-Line.
More than 500 miles west of Scobey is the home of Class A boys champion, Columbia Falls. Travel another 200 miles or so southeast and you arrive in Butte, where Butte Central is celebrating the Class A girls title. Then head 100 miles east to visit Class AA boys champ Bozeman and another 150 miles east to Billings, where Billings West is fresh off a victory at the Class AA girls tournament.
The tour of Montana’s 2011 basketball champions takes you across the Hi-Line, down through the northwestern scenic highways and along the state’s main artery, Interstate 90. And at some point, you’ll have to take a turn to Fairfield, outside of Great Falls where the Class B girls crown currently resides.
There were few surprises at this year’s tournaments and in some cases the heavy favorites cleaned house, taking home the trophies that many people expected them to. Class A boys champ Columbia Falls finished 22-1, Class AA boys winner Bozeman ended the year 21-2 and Class B boys champion Wolf Point never lost, finishing 25-0.
For Columbia Falls, it was the boys’ fourth title in nine years and fifth appearance in the championship game in that span. The Wildcats claimed the Class AA crown in 2003, 2005 and 2006. They lost in the title game in 2009.
Billings West, in losing to Bozeman 61-53 in the Class AA boys championship, made history of its own. The Golden Bears were playing in the tournament’s final game for the fifth year in a row. During that run, they have won two titles: 45-37 over Butte in 2007 and 58-40 over Missoula Sentinel in 2008. The Bears lost to C.M. Russell in 2009 and 2010.
The streak of five straight championship appearances is the longest since Missoula – now Missoula Sentinel – went to five in a row from 1958-1962. Like Billings West, Missoula won two out of the five.
Bozeman’s title was the fifth state championship for the high school this year. The Hawks won the boys and girls cross country crowns, along with the Class AA wrestling title, which broke a streak of five straight titles for Flathead High School.
Led by quarterback Tanner Roderick, the Hawks also won the state football championship. Roderick, who will play football at Nevada, was also the basketball team’s star. He scored 26 points in the victory over Billings West.
Bozeman had a chance for a sixth title. In the Class AA girls tournament, the Hawks were upset by Missoula Sentinel 38-37 in the Class AA semifinals and wound up claiming third place.
The tournaments for Class A boys, Class A girls, Class B girls and Class C girls were held March 3-5. The tournaments for Class AA boys, Class AA girls, Class B boys and Class C boys were held March 10-12.
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