Whether he was chewing his nails or feeling the lump in the back of his throat, Sam Tudor’s stress level remained feverish for three straight days last week.
Throughout the Western B Divisional basketball tournament, the head coach of the Bigfork Vikings watched his team build big leads that slipped away, one game at a time.
And one game at a time, he saw his experienced group of boys buckle down and do what they do best: Win.
“When they get on the basketball court, the magic happens,” Tudor said.
Another banner season in Bigfork is reaching its climactic conclusion as the Vikes roll into the state basketball tournament as one of Montana’s best teams.
The Class B boys and girls state tournaments are in Butte, March 10-12.
Tudor’s team, with six seniors, is all but flawless at 22-1 overall after retaking the Western B title in Kalispell over the weekend.
A well-balanced offense and stingy defense guided the Vikings past Florence 65-54 in the championship game at Flathead High School. The victory avenged Bigfork’s only loss of the season, a 53-49 defeat in Florence on Jan. 16.
Senior Joseph Potkonjak had 17 points, senior Jonathan Landon had 13 points and nine rebounds and freshman Anders Epperly netted 12 points for Bigfork, which clinched its first divisional title since 2014’s perfect championship season. Senior Adam Jordt scored 10 points and senior George Gibson had nine for the Vikes, who held off a late comeback attempt by Florence. Senior Garrett Beville made a significant impact on the defensive end, particularly down the stretch.
“It was a great win. We played as a team and stuck to our game plan and played good defense,” said Gibson, who played stellar in the fourth quarter when Bigfork needed a spark to stop Florence’s rally. “Everything came together and we got what we wanted.”
This group of seniors has played together since they were fourth graders. The boys are now approaching the end of a remarkable run for Bigfork basketball. In the last four years, the team has put together a 90-12 overall record with a perfect state championship season in 2014. The last two seasons, the boys are 44-5.
“Coming together with the people I grew up with, playing with them tonight, senior year and winning it, it feels pretty sweet,” Landon said.
The Vikes will play the third seed from Southern B at 6:30 p.m., March 10. Florence will play the top seed from Southern B at noon. Missoula Loyola will take on Choteau at 1:30 p.m. And either Conrad or Shelby will play the two seed from Southern B at 6:30 p.m.
A year ago, Bigfork advanced to the semifinal round before falling to eventual champion Choteau, 62-53. Rocky Boy eliminated Bigfork in loser-out action, 83-75.
This time around, the Vikes boast even more tournament experience and chemistry, as well as a freshman guard, Epperly, who has an uncommon ability for his age.
“We’re really confident in each other,” Landon said.
“At this point in the season, I really feel like a lot of it is polishing up what we already do,” Tudor said.
“I know we’re going to do well because there’s so much character on this team.”
Bigfork’s girls team clinched a trip to Butte the hard way. After falling in the divisional opener to Missoula Loyola, Bigfork rallied back to win three consecutive loser-out games to secure the third seed from Western B.
“They’re fighters. They wanted it and they earned it,” Bigfork girls head coach Jami Grende said after the Valkyries defeated Florence 52-41 on Saturday.
Miranda Campbell scored 15, Mattison McAnally added 13 and Bigfork eliminated Libby 55-39 to advance to the consolation final. In that game, Campbell scored 13 points and Lana Berg and Jamie Berg each had 10 for the Vals. McAnally chipped in seven and Katie Thomas and Haile Norred each scored six.
Bigfork (19-5) will play the top seed from Northern B at 10:30 a.m., Thursday, March 10.
Ronan defeated Missoula Loyola in the Western B girls final, 54-47. Lee Camel scored 28 points and Micalann McCrea added 15 for Ronan (21-2).
Follow FlatheadBeacon.com for updated results from the state tournaments.
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