The State A boys’ basketball bracket filled up as divisional tournaments completed their runs over the weekend and many programs familiar to the state scene are set to return to the final bracket in Great Falls this week.
But a few wild cards snuck in as well.
Major divisional underdogs Polson, Miles City and Havre got hot at the right time to earn one of the two state spots out of their respective divisions. They’ll join the likes of returning state champion Stevensville, perennial state contender Columbia Falls and 2012 title team Dillon at the Montana ExpoPark starting Thursday.
For Polson (7-15), a two-game flurry in the Northwestern A tournament propelled the Pirates past Frenchtown and Whitefish to take the league’s No. 2 spot, behind Columbia Falls. Strangely enough, Polson lost to both teams – Frenchtown by 22 and Whitefish by 11 – in the last week of the regular season before canning the upsets.
“You watch Polson during that tournament and they were a different team than they were during the year,” said Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg, whose boys beat the Pirates in the first round by 14.
Andrew Weltz leads the Pirates in scoring with 14.1 points a game but it’s been the emergence of young talents like transfer Andrew Curley and freshmen Tanner Wilson and Matt Rensvold that has Polson playing state games, coach Brad Pluff said.
Few expect much from the Pirates in this state bracket, where they last made it in 2012 and were runners-up in 2010, but that’s fine by their coach.
“You don’t have to be the best team this season to win the state tournament,” he said. “You just have to be the best team this weekend.”
A young Polson team will get Central A champions Belgrade (14-6) in the first round. The Panthers made state a year ago but haven’t won a title since a pair of championships in Class C in the ’50s.
Miles City (7-14) enters in a similar spot as Polson, having nabbed Eastern A’s second berth despite a last-place league finish during the regular season. The Cowboys are making their first tourney appearance since 2003, but have a tough test to start with Dillon (18-2) in the first round.
Each program has eight total state titles to its credit, though Miles City’s last came way back in 1988.
The Beavers gashed the Class A ranks this year behind Troy Scott’s 20.7 points per game and won the Southwestern A tourney by beating Stevensville. The Yellowjackets (13-8) did steal one from Dillon earlier in the year, one of only two losses for the No. 1 ranked Beavers.
Seniors Jared Schultz (18.5 ppg) and Zach Gavlak (13.8 ppg) lead the way for Stevi (13-8), which meandered to the state tournament a little more than last year when it finished 20-3 with a title-game win over Billings Central.
“They found out that our conference is a tough conference to get out of,” Stevensville coach Joey Wark said of his team, which started the year 5-6 before finishing on an 8-2 tear. “We have to play our best games (to have a chance to repeat) and we did that when we were down in Dillon.”
Stevensville beat Dillon 62-59 to finish its regular season and then survived a double-overtime gut check against Butte Central in the Maroons’ house in the semifinals of their divisional tournament. Laurel (18-2), which won a State A crown in 2010 and earned the top spot out of the Eastern A tournament, will be Stevi’s first challenger Thursday.
The final quarterfinal features Columbia Falls (16-4), perhaps the area’s deepest team during the regular season, and Central A runner-up Havre. The Wildcats have similar size to the 7-13 Blue Ponies and Coach Finberg said his team’s defensive emphasis is on shutting down sophomore Dane Warp, a 6-foot-3 forward.
Warp led the classification in scoring this year at 23.6 points a game. His right-hand man, 6-4 Kade Rismon, chipped in 11.8 per outing to help Havre to its first state tournament since 2006.
Columbia Falls counters with 6-5 senior Jared Trinastich (12.0 ppg), Ty Morgan (12.6 ppg) and Alex Presnell (11.7 ppg), but has many more scoring threats on the bench, Finberg said.
“You never know when injuries are going to happen or foul trouble,” said Finberg, who has led the Cats to four State A titles since 2003 along with a pair of second-place finishes. “It’s just nice to have options. If one kid isn’t getting it done tonight, it’s another guy’s turn to get it done.”
The tournament runs through Saturday, with the state championship game scheduled for 8 p.m. that night.
State A Preview: Ponies face Columbia Falls, tough A field
March 5, 2014
The long wait of eight years is over for the Havre High boys basketball team is over. The Blue Ponies are finally back in the Class A state tournament.
But Havre won’t just be going to Great Falls content to just be in the field. No, the Blue Ponies are there to compete and win games. Yet, the Class A boys basketball tournament is always one of the most difficult in Montana, mainly because Class A is small, and the cream usually always rises to the top. This weekend at the Four Seasons Arena will be no different as eight quality basketball programs vie for the state championship.
Here's a breakdown of each team in the Class A state tournament, which runs Thursday-Saturday at the Four Seasons Arena.
Eastern A Champion
Outlook: Laurel has been a perennial Class A power the last decade. The Locomotives last won a state championship in 2010, but they have been at or near the top of the Eastern A every year since. Laurel edged Miles City in the Eastern A title game to earn a top seed at the state tournament and will be tournament-ready after playing in a rigorous Eastern A regular season race. Evan Jones (6-2), Zac Allen (6-5) and Dylan Meccage (6-0) are players to watch on a Laurel squad built on size and strength.
Southwest A Runner-Up
Outlook: Stevensville comes to Great Falls as the defending Class A champions after beating Billings Central in the 2013 championship game. The Yellowjackets had to go through some upheaval earlier this season when 2013 State A MVP Jesse Sims transferred to another school, but they still were able to negotiate the powerful Southwest A tourney last week in Butte. Stevi doesn’t have as much depth as last year’s title team, or quite the scoring punch, but guard Jared Schultz (6-1) and forwards Chance Coleman (6-2) and Zach Gavlek (6-4) give the Jackets a strong inside-out combo, and being tested in the difficult Southwest A will come in handy this weekend.
Columbia Falls Wildcats
Northwest A Champion
Outlook: Coming into the season, many experts pegged Columbia Falls the team to beat in the Class A ranks. And the Wildcats haven’t disappointed so far. The program has played in four of the last seven state title games, winning it all in 2011. This year’s team has the same aspirations, especially with super star athletes Alex Presnell and Jared Trinastich leading the way. The duo makes up one of the most powerful 1-2 scoring punches in the state, while the supporting cast includes standouts Ty Morgan, Nakia Alexander and Mason Gedlaman. The Wildcats have depth, size and experience on their side, and if they get by Havre in the opening round, a huge matchup with Laurel or Stevi awaits in the semifinals.
Havre Blue Ponies
Central A Runner-Up
Outlook: The Blue Ponies are excited to be back in the state tournament, but a matchup with Columbia Falls will be a tough way to start things off. Still, it’s fitting that Havre is back in the state tourney exactly 20 years after winning the 1994 title. The Blue Ponies are also playing their best basketball of the season right now, with star guard Dane Warp and senior forward Kade Rismon leading the way. Nate Rismon can also get hot, while Jase Kato gives HHS added size in the post. Jerod Boles has also done well in a starting role recently. The Columbia Falls matchup is a difficult one, but with how the Ponies competed at last week’s Central A Divisional, they are a team no one will want to face this week in Great Falls.
Southwest A Champion
Outlook: Like Columbia Falls, Dillon seems to be in the state championship hunt year-after-year, and the program shows no sign of slowing down. Under legendary head coach Terry Thomas, the Beavers come to Great Falls fresh off an impressive performance in the Southwest A championship game last weekend. Dillon, which has recent state titles in 2007, 2009 and 2012 is deep and talented. The Beavers are also balanced, and can get production from the likes of Troy Scott (6-4), Brady Richardson (6-3), Parker Love (6-1), as well as brothers Justin (6-0), Jason (6-2) and J.D. Ferris (6-1). The Beavers are on what is considered the easier side of the bracket as well, so don’t be surprised to see them back in the title game for the fourth time in the last seven years.
Miles City Cowboys
Eastern A Runner-Up
Outlook: The second of three teams with sub .500 records in the field, the Cowboys can’t be overlooked this weekend. In the brutal Eastern A tournament, Miles City made a great run to the championship game and is making a rare appearance at the state tournament level. It’s been 26 years since the Cowboys last win a state championship, but like Havre, they have a team equipped to give the field fits this week. Timmy Regan is a star scorer and Brett Keith will be one of the elite athletes in the tournament this weekend, but the Cowboys, who took Laurel down to the wire last week at the Eastern A, have a tough opener with Dillon.
Central A Champion
Outlook: The Panthers are an intriguing team at this year’s state tournament. A perennial Central A power, Belgrade could be a real dark horse in Great Falls. The Panthers last played for a state title 10 years ago when they lost to Libby in triple overtime. However, they are built for a run this weekend. Trevor Mann and Shiloh Christopher are prolific shooters, while Brayden Konkol and Kody Ruff are excellent inside-out players. The Panthers also bring a very physical brand of basketball to Great Falls, and will play excellent defense and are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the tournament.
Northwest A Runner-Up
Outlook: The lone team in the tournament which had to survive a challenge game, Polson comes to Great Falls with nothing to lose. The Pirates lost to Columbia Falls in the Northwest A championship game, but bounced back one night later to beat Whitefish to punch their ticket to state. Polson’s last state title came in 1998, but Thursday, the Pirates will be focused on upsetting Belgrade in the first round. The Pirates lack depth, and don’t have a lot of size either, but Cedric Smith (5-11) and Andrew Weltz (6-3) give the Pirates a good scoring combo.