As the Bigfork fans squirmed and the top-seeded Vikings stumbled, head coach Sam Tudor tried to remain stoic.
“As a coach, you get that lump in the back of your throat and you don’t want to show it,” he said.
No worries, this senior-laden squad had it all under control.
Jonathan Landon scored 12 points, Adam Jordt had 11 and the Vikes held off Deer Lodge 51-42 in the first round of the Western B Divisional boys basketball tournament at Flathead High School on Thursday.
Bigfork, carrying the weight of a No. 1 seed and enjoying a near-perfect season, suffered a fair share of missed opportunities throughout the game but especially down the stretch, creating anxiety for a team and its fanbase that had not been in that position many times this season. The one and only time Bigfork has lost this year was Jan. 16 against Florence.
“I think there is a lot of pressure with us being ranked high but I don’t want to put it on that. Jitters was a part of it but also the way we were being defended,” Tudor said.
The Vikes trailed 35-34 late in the fourth quarter before Landon provided a much-needed spark. The senior guard netted six points in the quarter and classmate Joseph Potkonjak added four.
“My seniors are steadfast in moments like that,” Tudor said.
With the game knotted at 42-all with 1:30 remaining, the Vikes shined brightest under pressure, turning anxiety into excitement as Bigfork fans dressed in blue rose to their feet.
Even freshman Anders Epperly showed the clutch abilities of a proven player, stealing an inbounds pass with under a minute remaining and scoring to put Bigfork up 46-42.
The Vikes clamped down on defense, forcing key turnovers and finished the game on a 9-0 run to improve to 20-1 this year.
“Deer Lodge was coached well and they were prepared for us,” Tudor said. “Towards the end there, we could’ve went the opposite direction and really let them open the gash on us, but our seniors stepped up and you saw the leadership and experience from last year really showed in the last few minutes of that game.”
Potkonjak finished with eight points along with George Gibson and Garrett Beville had seven for the Vikings.
Bigfork advances to Friday night’s semifinal game at 5:40 p.m. against the winner of Libby (12-8) and Anaconda (14-6), which tipped off Thursday night.
Loyola (15-8) plays Florence (20-1) in the other semifinal round game at 4 p.m. at Flathead.
Bigfork 10 13 9 19 – 51
Deer Lodge 10 13 9 10 – 42
BIGFORK – Anders Epperly 5, Adam Jordt 11, Joseph Potkonjak 8, Jonathan Landon 12, George Gibson 8, Garrett Beville 7.
DEER LODGE – Colter Scully 6, Brock Doiron 2, Cade Benjamin 10, Kaehl Lowery 6, Brandon Porter 18.
Florence 22 10 8 13 — 53
Troy 9 0 11 19 — 29
FLORENCE — Levi Edwards 2, Bo Zeiler 5, Collin Jelinski 2, Marcus Zeiler 14, Levi Clagett 14, Cody Liles 4, Dan Mickelson 12.
TROY — Dillon Savage 6,Tucker Winn 3, Adam Tallmadge 2, Sean Opland 9, Brandon Finley 2, Mason Chapel 2, Kolten Winebark 3,Trinity Rice 2.
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