The 102nd installment of state championship high school basketball in Montana was another collective classic.
There was sophomore sensation Tres Tinkle leading the Hellgate Knights to a Class AA title 20 years after one of the all-time great matchups. There were the Fairfield girls claiming the Class B crown with their state-record 78th win in a row. There was Malta edging Wolf Point in the third overtime of the Class B boys championship. And there were the reliable Columbia Falls boys, battling back from a first-round defeat to claim the third-place trophy and finish in the top three for the fifth year in a row.
As this latest edition of state tournaments proved, the proud tradition of high school basketball in Montana is very healthy indeed.
The Glacier boys had a lineup loaded with veteran talent and a seven-game win streak. But Hellgate had Tinkle.
The son of Montana Grizzlies head coach Wayne Tinkle scored 19 points and led the Knights past the Wolfpack 48-45 in the semifinals on March 8. The victory vaulted Hellgate to the finale and stymied Glacier’s chances at playing in its first state championship game.
The Wolfpack stayed alive the following game with a 68-52 win over Great Falls but fell in the third-place match against Billings Skyview, 62-52.
Glacier ended the season 19-5. Senior Ryan Edwards and junior Evan Epperly were named second-team All Tournament.
Tinkle earned the tournament MVP award after scoring 26 points in the Knights’ 58-53 win over Helena Capital in the championship. It was Hellgate’s first title since 2005. The victory also came almost exactly 20 years to the day since Hellgate defeated Billings West 71-68 for the state title. That game is widely considered one of the best prep games ever played in Montana.
Tinkle averaged a tournament-high 23.3 points per game.
The Helena Capital girls’ bid for a state championship fell victim to another Missoula school. Olivia Roberts guided Sentinel to its second-straight girls state championship in a 49-40 victory over the Lady Bruins. Roberts averaged almost 16 points per game at state and was named tournament MVP.
The Sentinel girls’ capped a remarkable season that ended at 22-1 overall. Glacier dealt the Lady Spartans their lone loss earlier in the year. The Wolfpack lost out in two games, against Butte, 47-40, and Billings West, 43-37.
Junior Cassi Hashley was named first-team All Tournament for Glacier, which finished the season 17-6 after qualifying for state for the second year in a row.
The Flathead girls also lost out in two games, 58-36 to Great Falls and 53-37 to Billings Senior. The Bravettes finished the season 11-11 after qualifying for state for the first time since 2008.
Columbia Falls has become a perennial contender, even in years like this one when the starting lineup is almost completely rebuilt.
The latest squad of talented Wildcats rolled into state for the fifth year in a row but lost in the opener to Laurel 59-50. Columbia Falls regrouped and rolled through the consolation bracket, flattening Browning 72-56 and Butte Central 64-47. Columbia Falls and Laurel met in a rematch for third place and the Wildcats avenged their earlier loss with a 48-46 victory.
Columbia Falls, which finished this season 18-6, has a 13-5 record at state the past five years and has not finished below third place. The Wildcats won the title in 2011, placed second both last year and in 2009 and earned third in 2010.
Stevensville beat Billings Central 73-59 to claim its first boys basketball state championship.
Bigfork had the unfortunate luck of running into a team of reigning champs who were destined to repeat.
Malta held off Bigfork 47-35 in the semifinals and went on to edge Wolf Point 66-62 in three overtimes for the title. The Vikings battled in the consolation bracket, defeating Columbus 65-44 but losing to Florence 61-49 in the third-place game.
The Vikings finished the season 20-7.
In the Class B girls finale, Fairfield added to the record books. The top-ranked, two-time defending champion Eagles (25-0) met second-ranked Townsend (25-0) in the finale and won 45-32. It was Fairfield’s 78th-win in a row, which is the longest win streak for any boys or girls prep team in state history.
The Great Falls High girls (1980-83) held the previous record of 72 straight. Glacier girls head coach Kris Salonen (Class of 1985) played for the Bison during their record streak.
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