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State A tournament tips off today

March 1, 2012
Northwest Montana A Conference


State A tournament tips off today


Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 12:01 am


Plenty has changed since the season started.

As the Class A boys’ state tournament opens today in Butte, both Columbia Falls and Polson hope that their teams have improved for the better in that time, as they’ll both be facing demons from the season’s first weekend.

On December 10, just the second game for both teams and the final day of the Northwestern/Southwestern A Tip-Off tournament, both the Wildcats and Pirates had previews of their state tournament openers. And they didn’t go well.

Columbia Falls was torn apart by Stevensville, losing 67-48 and putting heaps of doubt on how well the Wildcats would play to defend their state title from last year. Polson didn’t fair much better, losing to Dillon 53-42.

“Obviously they beat us the first time pretty solidly,” Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg said. “We’re a different team than we were at that time. We’re playing a lot better defense. We’re just looking forward to the challenge because they’re a quality team.”

The Wildcats have steadily improved as the season has rolled along, sweeping through the conference to finish 17-3 this season. Stevensville, 18-3, finished second in the Southwest, losing to Dillon 66-50 in the divisional championship and beating Corvallis 55-42 in the challenge.

“We’re looking forward to playing in the state tournament,” Finberg said. “We’re looking forward to playing better against them than we did the first time.”

“We’re looking to go down there and play better. If we play like we’re capable of playing, I have all the confidence that we’ll be playing Friday night.”

Coming off a state championship run last season, the Wildcats have the one thing most others don’t at this season’s tournament — experience.

“We have kids that have been there, that know the routine and know what it takes to be successful at the state tournament,” Finberg said.

“Obviously anybody you play there is going to be a good team. We just need to be ready to go.”

Polson’s season hasn’t gone quite as smoothly. Just as the Pirates were starting to get into a groove, they lost senior center Tyler Krell to a season-ending injury. Heading into divisional, they had lost five straight and were reeling.

“We turned it around,” Polson coach Brad Pluff said. “We kind of changed the way we play. We slowed it down a little bit and are trying to play better defense. Our scores indicate that. I think our biggest point total of the weekend was 40.”

The Pirates’ biggest output of the weekend was against Libby in the consolation final, where they put up all of 42 points to beat the Loggers. They beat Whitefish 40-35 in overtime of Monday’s challenge game to seal up the second seed from the Northwest.

“The kids are ecstatic about getting there,” Pluff said. “It took a little while to buy into the new philosophy that we adopted after Tyler got hurt. We struggled shooting the ball. I think they’ve bought in now and they’re having fun again.”

A side affect of their slow pace has been close games. Two of their four games at divisional came down to the wire, beating Libby 33-32 in the opener and the overtime thriller against Whitefish in the challenge game.

“Going into the weekend we hadn’t won any close games,” Pluff said. “It was good to get that under our belt, to get the intensity up, those close game, pressure situations. Now we know what it feels like and hopefully we’ll react accordingly if it comes up again.”

This is the third straight season the Pirates have made the trip to state, giving them one a handful of experience to build on.

Dillon, the team they’ll face in the first round, has experience too, returning four starters from a team that finished second in the state last season.

“They’re a very good team and I’m sure they’ve improved since the beginning of the year,” Pluff said. “Our work’s cut out for us that’s for sure.”

In the first meeting, Polson played without two of its top players, Vince DiGiallonardo and Ian Laimbeer, who were taking SAT’s at the time. This time they’ll be back, but Polson will certainly miss the inside presence of Krell.

“We’re not going to go in intimidated,” Pluff said.

Polson tips off the tournament against Dillon at 2 p.m. today at the Butte Civic Center. Columbia Falls will start its game against Stevensville at 6:30 p.m.

The other teams playing at the tournament are Laurel, Livingston, Browning and Billings Central.


Locomotives, Rams ready for State A tournament

 PAUL RUHTER/Gazette Staff

Brett Thompson of Laurel drives to the basket past Jacob Stanton of Billings Central during the second first half of the Eastern A championship game on Saturday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.

BUTTE — It's one of the deepest and most dynamic assortments to gather at a State A boys basketball tournament in recent seasons.

One team has won 19 consecutive games. Another brought back four starters from its runner-up finish from last year. And one first-round matchup pits two squads with a combined 35 victories.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a distinct favorite as the tournament tips off Thursday at the Civic Center.

"You hate to pick a team to beat with a field like this," said Billings Central coach Shel Hanser. "But you have to point the finger at Dillon."

Laurel coach Pat Hansen concurred.

"Dillon has to be the favorite going in," Hansen said. "There's no question."

The Beavers, led by standouts Wes Knox and J.T. Linder, lost to Columbia Falls in last year's title game. But Knox and Linder are two of four returning starters from last season.

Linder twisted his ankle during Dillon's run to the Southwestern A title last weekend but expects to play. The Beavers (18-2) will face Polson (10-12) in the first round Thursday at 2 p.m.

Hansen's Locomotives, state champs in 2010, are fresh off their second consecutive Eastern A tournament title last weekend at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. Laurel (16-4) plays Livingston (16-4) in the first round at 12:30 p.m.

Livingston is making its first state tournament appearance since 1996. The Rangers are a well-rounded team capable of scoring both inside and from the perimeter. Their guards are athletic and well-sized.

Dallas Lussier and Marcus Payne are the Rangers' leading scorers — both score better than 13 points per game. Decker Wilson also averages double figures.

"We're definitely going to have to get some pressure on the ball," Hansen said. "We're going to basically have to make quick decisions and quick adjustments, and try to limit their scoring.

"We don't want to make it a transition game — they're averaging 70 points a game with four kids scoring in double figures. And there are a lot of different ways they can score."

Laurel will look to senior point guard Bobby Anderson to dictate the tempo. Brett Thompson's ability to shoot well from the outside will also be a factor.

Central (12-8), which lost to Laurel in the divisional title game for the second consecutive year, will play red-hot Browning in Round 1. That game tips off at 8 p.m.

Browning has won 19 consecutive games, including a thriller in the Central A title game over Livingston last weekend. The Indians (19-1) were ranked No. 1 for most of the year. They have the ability to run 10 players deep, led by point guard Josiah Davis. DeeJay Lazyboy is Browning's top scorer, thought six players average better than 7 points per game.

Hanser expects a faster pace than that of the Eastern A championship game against Laurel.

"It'll be the complete opposite tenor of what was going on (last) Saturday night," Hanser said. "There will be a lot more flow to the game, and that benefits us. We struggled greatly with what was going on against Laurel. It's better for us to play more up-tempo.

"But it boils down to taking care of the basketball a little bit better. And it's always about defense and rebounding."

The Rams will again turn to leading scorers Ryan Burke and Daniel Meyer for strong point production.

The other first-round matchup pits defending state champion Columbia Falls (17-3) against Stevensville (18-3) at 6:30 p.m. It might be the best first-round matchup: Their combined 35 victories are the most of any Thursday pairing.

Columbia Falls is seeking its sixth appearance in the championship game — and its fourth state title — since 2005.

Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/sports/high-school/basketball/boys/locomotives-rams-ready-for-state-a-tournament/article_15667892-c05d-5eb6-b58d-9738e327b342.html#ixzz1nqesDap9


State A boys' basketball: Familiar foes head to Civic Center for state tournament

At Butte Civic Center


12:30 p.m. – Laurel (16-4) vs. Livingston (16-4)

2 p.m. – Dillon (18-2) vs. Polson (10-12)

6:30 p.m. – Columbia Falls (17-3) vs. Stevensville (17-3) or Corvallis (13-8)

8 p.m. – Billings Central (12-8) vs. Browning (19-1)

The Butte Civic Center has rounded up many of the usual suspects for the State A boys’ basketball tournament that begins Thursday.

These guys know each other, too.

Defending champion Columbia Falls saw first-round foe Stevensville early on and Polson, which overcame injuries to make its third straight tournament, got an early-season look at Dillon. The Pirates and No. 3 Beavers play at 2 p.m; fourth-ranked Columbia Falls and No. 2 Stevensville battle at 6:30 p.m.

In all five of the teams in last year’s field are back, and two of them — Laurel (2010) and Dillon (2007 and ’09) – have state championships in the last decade. The other two, Polson in 2010 and Billings Central in 2003, advanced to the title game.

The tournament begins with Laurel and Livingston matching up their 16-4 records at 12:30 p.m.; the nightcap has top-ranked Browning facing Billings Central.

The Dillon Beavers, under seventh-year head coach Terry Thomas, have won 14 straight games since a 52-47 loss at Stevensville in January. They’ve beaten the Jackets twice since, and also topped Polson 53-42 when the Pirates had 6-foot-6 Tyler Krell to throw it into.

But a troublesome knee shelved the 12-point-a-game scorer in early February: Krell had two points in a 43-42 loss to Columbia Falls and the Pirates went on to lose their last four regular-season games.

Then they won three out of four at the Northwestern divisional, including a 40-35 win over Whitefish.

The game was notable for Zach Camel’s 18 points — he totaled 12 points in the first three tournament games — and a technical foul because Whitefish called a timeout it didn’t have.

Vince DiGiallonardo and Camel hit four free throws in the final 11 seconds.

“He’s really stepped up,” Polson coach Brad Pluff said of Camel. “He’s such a confident kid.”

Case in point: Polson was struggling with Libby and trailed 32-31 in the final minute of its tournament opener. Camel was 0 for 8 from the floor to that point.

“I’ll be danged if he didn’t hit the shot,” Pluff said of the senior, who averages 13.1 points. “He’s got a lot of confidence. It’s good that somebody stepped up when Tyler got hurt, and he has.”

DiGiallonardo, a MSU football signee, and 6-5 Cody Fischer add 8 ppg; Fischer’s a good shooter and 6-3 Ian Laimbeer is the Pirates’ top rebounder at 6.7 a game. Their record (10-12) isn’t as pretty as the rest of the field, but they made it.

Pluff hopes his team, reliant on sturdy man-to-man defense more than ever with Krell out of the middle, is peaking. He also notes that Laimbeer and DiGiallanardo missed the first Dillon game because they were taking their SATs.

The Beavers have Wes Knox inside and J.T. Linder outside; Ben Folsom joins them as a double-figure scorer.

“That’s a tough draw, but everybody’s good now,” Pluff said. “You know anything can happen at state. We’re going to try to win a game or two.”

At a December tournament in Whitefish, Stevensville topped Columbia Falls in 67-48. Wildcats coach Cary Finberg accurately points out that was a long time ago.

“They put it to us pretty good there in the second half,” Finberg said. “But we’re doing some different things. I’m sure Stevensville has improved too, but we were a little unsettled at the time.”

The Wildcats post three players averaging a dozen points — Austin Barth, Parker Johnson and Anthony Correa — and they’ve won 12 straight games. The 6-6 Barth, also a MSU football signee, can be found at the top of Columbia Falls’ vaunted 1-3-1 zone defense. He shoots 56 percent from the field and averages eight rebounds.

Stevensville counters with snipers Josh and Jared Schultz — Josh made 55 of 140 3-pointers during the regular season and averages 15.3 points — plus 6-4 freshman post Jesse Sims and 6-4 sophomore Zach Gavlak. Both average in double figures; Sims shoots 58 percent.

“The maturation of those kids combined with those kids with three or four years of experience has been really nice,” said Stevensville coach Keith Chambers. “It takes a while. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re still tinkering with it.”

Browning has won 19 straight since losing its opener to Butte Central; the Indians won the 2008 state title and have size in 6-3 Gary Monroe and Josh Hall, and explosive players like 6-1 junior Deejay Lazy Boy and 5-9 Charles Old Chief, who’s playing through a torn ACL suffered in football.

Billings Central is led by 6-4 Ryan Burke, a Grizzly football signee, as well as Jacob Stanton.

The tourney opener has Livingston, which lost narrowly to Browning in the Central A Divisional title game — 56-55 on two free throws with under a second left — taking on Laurel.

The Locomotives have an excellent one-two punch in point guard Bobby Anderson and Brett Thompson. Livingston’s Rangers have run into state for the first time since 1996. They have a trio of capable scorers in Dallas Lussier, Marcus Payne and Decker Willson.

Heck everybody seems capable, and pretty familiar.

“Many times the state champs aren’t the best team, but the one that is that weekend,” said Chambers, who has Stevensville back at state for the first time since 2008. “We’ve got to get a little lucky and the kids have to play pretty well.

“I think that we’re not going to be an ‘easy out’ in the tournament, by any stretch.”

The fourth-ranked Wildcats, who topped Dillon 55-43 last March for their fourth state title since 2003, won’t be either. They won their fourth straight divisional title last weekend.

“It doesn’t get old,” said Finberg. “We’ve had some pretty good players and some pretty good teams here the last four years. It’s where we wanted to be and expected to be.”

Read more: http://missoulian.com/sports/high-school/boys-basketball/state-a-boys-basketball-familiar-foes-head-to-civic-center/article_d144ea5c-6348-11e1-a7ba-001871e3ce6c.html#ixzz1nqjogBKD


'A' cagers tip off

 Photo by Walter Hinick/Montana Standard

Butte Central Maroon Jake Simkins and Dillon Beaver J.T. Linder battle under the basket for the rebound during the first half of their game Tuesday night in the Maroon Activity Center.

Call it the “Tournament of Champions.”

Ten of the past 12 state champions will be on hand for the boys’ Class A State basketball tournament, which tips off Thursday at the Butte Civic Center.

Columbia Falls is the defending champion. The Wildcats knocked off Dillon in the championship game in Bozeman last March.

The Beavers, winners of the 2007 and 2009 state titles, are back for another run at the title.

Dillon (18-2), which has most of its major players back from last season, plays Polson (10-12) in the first round at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Laurel (16-4) takes on Livingston (16-4) in the 12:30 p.m. tournament opener.

Columbia Falls (17-3) plays Stevensville (18-3) at 6:30, while Browning (19-1) plays Billings Central (12-8) at 8.

Laurel, Polson, Dillon, Columbia Falls and Billings Central all competed in the state tournament last year.

Browning is back after a rare year off, while Stevensville and Livingston are making their first trip to state in several years.

Of the eight teams in the tournament, only Stevensville has never won a state title. The Yellowjackets finished second five times — in 1977, 1992, 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Columbia Falls is looking for its fifth state title in the last decade. The defending champs also won it all in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Browning won three titles this century — 2001, 2002 and 2008.

Dillon won the title in 2007 and 2009, while Laurel won state the last time it was in Butte, in 2010.

Billings Central is looking for its first title since 1996, while Polson last won in 1998.

Livingston’s last state title came in 1989.

The Beavers come in off Saturday night’s win over Stevensville in the Southwestern A Divisional championship game.

Four Beavers scored in double figures in the 66-50 win on their home court. Junior Ben Folsom led the way with 14.

Senior Wes Knox led the Beavers in scoring during the regular season. He averaged 12.7 points per game.

Senior J.T. Linder averaged 11.1 points, while Folsom added 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds.

Seniors Chevy Reed and Austin Williams, a pair of players capable of going off for big games, round out the Dillon lineup.

Try Scott, Austin Schurg, Caleb Gills and Boyd Jenne are key bench players for the Beavers, winners of 14 straight.

Polson qualified for state by beating Whitefish 40-35 in overtime in a challenge game Monday night.

Zack Camel scored 18 points as the Pirates punched their ticket as the No. 2 seed from the Northwestern A.

The Beavers and Pirates met in the the tipoff tournament Dec. 10. Dillon won that game 53-42. Knox scored 19 in that win.

Laurel is the top seed from the Eastern A.

The Locomotives beat Billings Central 35-29 in the divisional championship game Saturday night in Billings.

Brett Thompson, a 3-point threat, led the Locomotives with 15 points in the title game. Bobby Anderson scored 11.

Livingston, an 8-10 team a year ago, came within a point of wining the Central A title, falling 56-55 to Browning Saturday night in Great Falls.

Dallas Lussier scored 11 points to lead the Rangers in the title game. Kevin Kokut scored 10.

Landon Willyerd scored 17 and Decker Wilson tossed in 15 in Friday’s semifinal win over Havre.

Columbia Falls repeated as Northwestern A champs despite losing several key pieces from last year’s state title team.

Anthony Correa scored 15 points Wildcats 66-40 rout of Whitefish in the championship game. Parker Johnson poured in 12.

Stevensville, a team with several weapons, got double digits out of three players in Monday’s 55-42 challenge-game win over Corvallis.

Josh Schultz scored 14 points, while Jared Schultz scored 14 and Zach Gavlak tossed in 13.

Josh Schultz hit six 3-pointers and scored 22 points Saturday night in Dillon. Freshman Jesse Sims scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Browning has won 19 straight after falling 56-44 to Butte Central in the tipoff tournament. That game, by the way, was at the Civic Center.

Gary Monroe scored 13 points to pace the Indians in the divisional championship game.

Jonathan Hall, who scored 23 points in Friday’s semifinal win over Belgrade, scored 12.

Daniel Meyer scored 10 points for Billings Central in Saturday’s Eastern A title-game loss.

Ryan Burke, a Butte native and future Montana Grizzly football player, scored 24 in Friday’s 60-33 semifinal win over Miles City.

Games will be played at 12:30, 2, 6:30 and 8 on Friday.

Saturday, loser-out games will start at 9:30 and 11 a.m.

The third-place game will tip off at 6:30 p.m., and the championship game is scheduled for 8.

Read more: http://mtstandard.com/sports/high-school/a-cagers-tip-off/article_9e2a09fc-6363-11e1-99f4-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz1nqkgZ82j

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