Browning Boys Win Divisional Title; Three Other Local Teams Reach State Tourney

Indians girls, Polson boys and Bigfork girls will represent NW Montana March 12-14 at state tourneys

By Andy Viano
The Browning boys warm up during the Northwest Class A district tournament in Whitefish on Feb. 15, 2019. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Senior Riley Spoonhunter put a bow on a memorable tournament with 22 points in the Western A divisional championship game in Ronan on Feb. 29, sending the Browning Indians to a 51-45 win over Frenchtown and the top seed in the Class A state tournament later this month.

Spoonhunter, who spent two seasons at Heart Butte to begin his prep career, surpassed 1,500 career points in Browning’s opening-round 67-59 victory over Dillon on Feb. 27 and followed that up with a 27-point outburst in the semifinals, a 68-39 blowout of conference rival Whitefish. In Saturday’s championship game, Browning (17-4) turned around a third-quarter deficit to win a divisional title for the first time since Class A began holding combined Eastern and Western divisional tournaments in 2016. The Indians finished third in the divisional last year and bowed out after three games at the state tournament.

This year’s Browning team has not lost since a 60-49 setback against Libby on Feb. 1, rattling off eight straight wins following that defeat. The Class A state tournament is at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings, and the Indians tip things off against Laurel on Thursday, March 12 at 5 p.m. in the opening round.

Browning will be joined in the field by Northwest A counterpart Polson. The Pirates (13-9) recovered from an opening round loss to take out conference foes Ronan and Whitefish in back-to-back loser-out games and earn the fourth and final berth out of the divisional. Polson will tangle with Eastern A champion Hardin at 10:30 a.m. on March 12.

The Browning girls also advanced to state, surviving a difficult Western A divisional as the lone representative from the Northwest A. The Indians (18-4) were upset in the first round by Frenchtown but came back to win three straight to close out the tournament, all by at least 16 points. Browning hammered Dillon 48-22 in the third-place game. The Indians will meet Hardin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in Billings.

The Columbia Falls girls, who had finished in the top three in the state each of the last six seasons, saw that streak end at last week’s divisional. The Wildkats (16-4) were blown out 50-32 by Corvallis, the eventual divisional champion, in the opening round and fell to Dillon 47-35 in a loser-out game on Feb. 28.

In Class B, only Bigfork’s girls survived the rugged Western B divisional in Hamilton to qualify for the upcoming state tournament, March 12-14 in Butte. The Valkyries (14-9) beat Anaconda 57-49 on Feb. 27 and edged District 7B champion Thompson Falls 47-46 in the semifinals before falling to undefeated Missoula Loyola 50-29 in the divisional title game.

In the boys divisional, district champion Eureka (12-10) was upended by Arlee in round one, 58-51, and saw their tournament end one day later. The Warriors, who entered the divisional as the fourth seed from District 6B, would go on to win the tournament, a run that included a 50-39 defeat of Bigfork in the semifinals. The two-time defending state champion Vikings (11-12) lost 36-34 to Thompson Falls on Feb. 29 to end their season.

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