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Bigfork Claims Class B Basketball Crown

When it comes to boys basketball, history has haunted Bigfork and the rest of western Montana's teams. Not anymore.

By Beacon Staff

Undefeated. Historic. State champions.

The boys from Bigfork capped a perfect 26-0 season by claiming the school’s first Class B basketball championship on Saturday night inside Bozeman’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

Josh Sandry scored a game-high 23 points, Christian Evans exploded for eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and Ryder Trent had 13, including four clutch free throws in the final minutes to seal a 71-62 victory over Columbus. Isaac Martel and Jon Landon each scored seven points and Cameron Nissen added four for the well-rounded Vikes.

After being awarded the game ball and golden trophy at center court, the team soaked in the revelry of the few hundred fans who drove five hours to cheer on the hometown boys in their epoch-making pursuit. Wearing white and blue shirts that read, “Bigfork Pride,” the crowd chanted, “We’re No. 1” as players and coaches soaked in an unforgettable night.

“It’s a dream come true. It feels amazing,” Evans, a senior, said.

“It’s awesome that my name will be on this (championship trophy) for the rest of my life,” said Martel, a junior guard who had seven points and two steals.

“First time in Bigfork history, that’s the coolest thing. A perfect season, that’s even better,” said Trent, a junior.

In the biggest game of the best season in Bigfork history, the Vikings left nothing to chance or debate. They shot brilliantly. Scored every critical basket. Overcame the weight of expectations and a grueling run of three cutthroat tournament games in as many days.

How tired were they?

“Real tired. I didn’t say a word about it so it didn’t get in their heads,” said first-year head coach and Bigfork alum Josh Downey, adding with a smile, “I give gratitude to the chocolate milk we’ve been drinking after games.”

There was something mighty fueling this squad. The small, tight-knit community of Bigfork has yearned for a basketball title since the high school opened in the 1930s. Only once have the Vikings played for a championship, in 1983, and a sour taste still exists in the mouths of many who remember that one-point loss to Conrad after a contentious ending.

Redemption.

A team from western Montana had not won a Class B title in 26 years. The Bigfork Vikes rewrote the narrative.

“Great players play great in big games,” Downey said.

This Bigfork squad was determined to achieve greatness. But Columbus didn’t make it easy.

The Cougars (20-6) stayed within six points almost the entire game and led momentarily in the third quarter. By the fourth, Bigfork clung to a slim lead that shrunk to three points with barely two minutes remaining.

Sophomore Jon Landon, playing a day after hurting his shoulder, answered with a 3-pointer to make it 62-56. Then two quick baskets by Columbus put the score at 64-60 with 1:24 left in the game.

Like the night before, when Huntley Project led Bigfork in the fourth quarter of the semifinal game, anxiety swept the section of Viking fans. But like the night before, the Vikes held their composure, steely-eyed and focused.

Martel, Landon, Sandry and Trent combined to make nine of 11 free throws down the stretch.

“They hit all the free throws. They hit all the clutch shots,” said Columbus head coach Paul Barta. “That’s what you have to do to win championships.”

With 43 seconds remaining in the championship, Bigfork was suddenly up by 10 points and the fans were all on their feet.

Downey, who’s established a stoic style of coaching at his alma mater, couldn’t contain his jubilance along with anyone else on the Bigfork bench. They all knew how long their hometown had waited for its championship. The stadium began to rumble with stomping feet.

It was finally time to celebrate.

Columbus 15 12 15 20 — 62
Bigfork 15 19 11 26 — 71

COLUMBUS — Kade Osborne 3-8 2-2 10, Kiefer McKay 4-5 5-6 13, Trey Ostrum 4-9 2-3 11, Peyton Gross 2-5 0-1 4, Philip Holten 4-9 2-2 10, Braden Majerison 0-1 0-0 0, Tanner Osborne 5-13 1-2 14, Brady Exner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-50 12-16 62.

BIGFORK — Isaac Martel 2-6 2-4 7, Jon Landon 2-4 1-2 7, Josh Sandry 9-15 3-3 23, Ryder Trent 2-3 7-9 13, Cameron Nissen 2-3 0-0 4, Chris Evans 4-15 9-12 17. Totals: 21-46 22-30 71.

Total fouls — COL 22, BF 17. Fouled out — McKay, Nissen. Technical foul — COL bench. 3-point goals — COL 6-20 (K. Osborne 2, Ostrum, T. Osborne 3), BF 7-13 (Martel, Landon 2, Sandry 2, Trent 2). Rebounds — COL 26 (Holten 6, T. Osborne 6), BF 33 (Nissen 8). Assists — COL 16 (Holten 5), BF 9 (Landon 4). Turnovers — COL 7, BF 8. Blocked shots — COL 0, BF 3 (Evans 3). Steals — COL 4 (Ostrum 2), BF 4 (Martel 2).

Class A Girls State: Columbia Falls Girls Claim Third-Place Trophy

It wasn’t the trophy the girls wanted, but third place still stands as a momentous achievement for the Wildkats. Not since 1988 has the Columbia Falls girls basketball team earned a state trophy. That year it was also third place under legendary head coach Larry Schmautz.

The latest hardware came at the conclusion of the best season in recent history for the Wildkats. The top-ranked girls finished the season 22-2 overall. Last weekend in Great Falls, they narrowly lost in the semifinal round before rallying back through the consolation bracket to defeat Laurel in overtime of the third-place game. Senior Haley Belgarde scored 20 points, junior Winter Kemppainen had 12 and the Wildkats edged the Locomotives 54-52 in overtime on March 15. Freshman Cydney Finberg had nine points and sister Ciera, a junior, added six.

On March 14, Columbia Falls lost to Hamilton 44-39 in the state semifinals after rallying back from a 22-7 deficit in the first half. In loser-out action on the morning of March 15, Ciera Finberg scored 18 points and Belgarde added 14 as the Wildkats eliminated conference rival Frenchtown, 60-44, to advance to the consolation game against Laurel, last year’s state champs.

Havre defeated Hamilton 52-43 to claim its first Class A girls state championship since 1997.

Class AA State: Glacier Squads Bow Out

The Glacier girls basketball program continues to make progress. In their third trip, the Wolfpack won their first game at the Class AA state tournament last week in Billings, winning 47-46 over Great Falls in the opening round. In a low-scoring state semifinal game on March 14, Missoula Sentinel was too much for Glacier and dropped the girls 37-26. Billings Senior then eliminated the local squad the next morning 50-41. Senior Cassi Hashley capped her impressive all-state career with 62 points in Glacier’s three games, including 28 against Great Falls.

The Glacier boys advanced to the semifinals for the third consecutive year, defeating Great Falls C.M. Russell 62-47 in the opener. But once again the boys fell just shy of playing for a championship, losing 63-44 to Helena Capital. On the morning of March 15, a cold third quarter doomed Glacier and the Wolfpack’s state tournament came to an end with a 53-39 loss to Helena in the consolation bracket. Seniors Evan Epperly and Bryan Michaels finished their successful playing careers with impressive performances: the two boys combined to score 90 points in three games.

In a rematch of last year’s championship game, Helena Capital unseated Missoula Hellgate 51-47 to win the Class AA boys title. Missoula Sentinel won its third straight girls championship, 48-30, topping Billings West.

State Scores

Saturday, updated 11:30 p.m.
BOYS BASKETBALL
State AA at Billings (Metra)
Championship

Helena Capital 51, Missoula Hellgate 47
Consolation
Helena 44, Billings West 36
Loser Out
Billings West 66, Great Falls Russell 49
Helena 51, Glacier 39

State B at Bozeman
Championship

Bigfork 71, Columbus 62
Consolation
Malta 70, Huntley Project 54
Loser Out
Huntley Project 49, Florence 38
Malta 64, Glasgow 53

GIRLS BASKETBALL
State AA at Billings (Metra)
Championship

Missoula Sentinel 48, Billings West 30
Consolation
Billings Senior 51, Helena Capital 40
Loser Out
Billings Senior 50, Glacier 41
Helena Capital 55, Great Falls 37

State A at Great Falls
Championship

Havre 52, Hamilton 43
Consolation
Columbia Falls 54, Laurel 52 (OT)
Loser Out
Columbia Falls 60, Frenchtown 44
Laurel 54, Miles City 25

State B at Bozeman
Championship

Fairfield 60, Malta 55 (2OT)
Consolation
Shepherd 52, Deer Lodge 49
Loser Out
Deer Lodge 43, Manhattan 38
Shepherd 54, Forsyth 53

State C at Hamilton
Championship

Belt 63, Hinsdale 18
Consolation
Harlowton-Ryegate 44, Shields Valley 27
Loser Out
Harlowton-Ryegate 44, Shields Valley 27
Winnet-Grass Range 45, Saco-Whitewater 37

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