A pair of Flathead County schools earned top seeds at their respective state basketball tournaments, while another local school prepares to welcome an entire weekend full of games as the 2018-19 prep basketball season closes in on the finish line.
The weekend of Feb. 21-23 was filled with squeaking sneakers and bouncing balls across the state, as divisional tourneys in Class A, B and C qualified teams for the season-ending state tournaments, which will be held on the second weekend of March. Those schools who did qualify will get a brief respite this week, when Class AA takes center stage to hold its divisional tournaments, with the seven-team Western AA sorting out state qualifiers at Glacier High School Feb. 28-March 2.
Here’s a look at what went down for local teams in Class A and B last week, and what to expect at the upcoming Western AA tournament.
Wildkats Win Western A Title
It’s getting harder and harder to come up with superlatives to describe the Columbia Falls High School girls basketball team, and Cary Finberg’s dynastic Wildkats will have a shot at a sixth consecutive top-three finish in the state after winning the Western A divisional title in Hamilton on Feb. 23.
Columbia Falls (22-1) took down Browning 59-52 in the divisional championship game behind 16 points for junior Josie Windauer. The Kats have won 12 consecutive games overall, including three over Browning, the only team to beat Columbia Falls this season. The Wildkats also defeated the Indians to win the Northwest A district tournament on Feb. 16 in Whitefish.
Last season, Butte Central won the Western A divisional and sent the Wildkats into the loser-out bracket, where they rallied to win three straight games to finish third and claim one of four qualifying spots. It was more of the same at the 2018 state tournament, where Hardin beat Columbia Falls in the first round before the Wildkats once again rattled off three straight wins to finish third in the state. Columbia Falls won the Class A state title in 2017.
This year’s Wildkats are led by senior Ryley Kehr, who finished the regular season averaging 15.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Classmate Tristan Cowan (12.9 points, 9.9 rebounds) is the second half of a potent combination, and the pair gives Columbia Falls a dominant presence on the glass. The Wildkats averaged more than 17 offensive rebounds per contest in the regular season.
Browning (16-6) will join Columbia Falls at the state tournament, as will Libby (17-9), whose third-place finish at the divisional gave the Northwest A three of the four qualifying spots available. The Loggers lost 37-33 to Columbia Falls in the semifinals before beating Ronan and Butte Central on Feb. 23 to claim third.
All three teams begin the state tournament on Thursday, March 7 at Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The Wildkats take on Laurel at 9 a.m., Libby meets Havre at 10:30 a.m. and Browning squares off against Hardin at 3:30 p.m.
Browning’s boys also reached the state tournament out of the Western A divisional, finishing third after suffering an overtime loss to Butte Central in the semifinals. The Maroons have dealt Browning both of its losses this season. The Runnin’ Indians (22-2) open the state tourney against defending champion Hardin at 1:30 p.m. on March 7.
Bigfork’s Boys Back on Top
The Bigfork Vikings’ dreams of a second straight undefeated season died in early January, but visions of a second consecutive Class B title remain alive and well.
The Vikings (19-2) won the Western B divisional title for the second year in a row on Feb. 23 in Ronan, avenging one of their two losses this season with a 53-43 triumph over Missoula Loyola. Bigfork won all three of their games at the divisional by at least 10 points and will begin defense of their Class B state title on Wednesday, March 6 at the Belgrade Special Events Center.
In the divisional championship game, Bigfork erased a 27-23 halftime deficit with a lockdown third quarter, outscoring the Rams 12-3 in the period. Clayton Reichenbach led a balanced Vikings attack with 13 points in the title game. Logan Gilliard and Anders Epperly added 12 each.
Bigfork will play at 4:30 p.m. on March 6 in Belgrade, taking on the third seed out of the Southern B divisional. That tournament begins Feb. 28.
Glacier to Host Western AA Divisional
Fourteen basketball teams from throughout western Montana will hit the court at Glacier High School Feb. 28-March 2 with a total of eight spots at the Class AA state tournament on the line.
The host Wolfpack boast one of the hottest teams in the state entering the postseason, as the Glacier girls (12-6, 8-4 Western AA) have won five of their last six contests, including a 34-31 victory at Helena High on Feb. 15. That loss is the only one the Bengals have suffered all season.
Third-seeded Glacier opens the tournament on Feb. 28 at 3:30 p.m. against crosstown rival Flathead (6-12, 2-10). The Wolfpack won both regular-season contests against the Bravettes, most recently a 44-30 victory on Feb. 5.
On the boys side, both Flathead and Glacier enter the tournament hoping to spring a few upsets. The Wolfpack (5-13, 3-9) have the fifth seed and a first-round date with Helena High at 2 p.m. on Feb. 28. The Braves (5-13, 2-10) are seeded sixth and will challenge Helena Capital at 5 p.m. the same day.
The Missoula Hellgate boys and Helena girls hold the top seeds at the divisional. The tournament championship games will be Saturday, March 2, with the girls at 6 p.m. and the boys at 7:30.
The top four finishers at the double-elimination divisional qualify for the state tournament, March 7-9 in Butte.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.