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March 6, 2014
Northwest Montana A Conference


2013-14 Boys Basketball State A Preview: 

Northwestern A Polson Pirates

by John Heglie




The 2013-14 rendition of the Polson Pirates (2-6 NWA, 7-15 overall) could aptly be compared to a team with irregularities in performance that vacillated between brilliantly executed basketball in some cases while plagued by fractures in fundamentals during the course of others, somewhat akin to swings between Jekyll & Hyde personas portrayed in the novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.   While their regular season sweep of NWA cellar dweller Libby as well as victories over 6B Ronan and 7B Eureka are unlikely to elicit intimidation from prospective opponents yet to come, it merits being pointed out that a quartet of their regular schedule losses were within three scores or less, games from which they could have emerged victorious had due diligence been exercised to capitalize upon strategic opportunities.  Had Polson prevailed in those contests, they would have closed the regular schedule with an even record.  It should also be noted that at one juncture Polson had a multiple digit lead midway through the third quarter while visiting ranked Columbia Falls on their home turf.


Part of their less than enviable early season performance goes beyond adapting to adjustments from roster depletion stemming from graduations.  The team was further impacted by attrition from a pair of transfers by occasional starters  Cedric Earthboy and Derek Peel, who both contributed close to a hundred points apiece to the offense as well as turned in multiple double figure scoring outings last season.  Furthermore, the team was forced to adjust at midseason to the loss of the services of junior 5-10 guard Zadin Bautista, whose ball handling skills as well as slashing capability would have provided the Pirates with another weapon for penetrating opposing defensive alignments and who was already making his mark among the rungs of the  NWA TOP TEN statistical category ladder.


Once the NWA Divisional tournament got under way, the machinery of the Pirate engine seemed to leave behind much of its earlier sputtering as if a shift into operating more like a finely tuned mechanism firing on all cylinders had transpired.   The opening play-in round triumph in the teens over Libby may not have been completely unexpected on account of their previous regular schedule sweep.  But perhaps an inkling of what was to come may have been hinted at when Polson forced a Columbia Falls timeout when it cut the Cat second round game lead into single digit territory at the divisional tournament.  After twice being beaten by double figure scores by Frenchtown during the course of the regular schedule, a trouncing by twenty coming from a surgical wielding of the rapier by the Pirates over the Broncs was not what was anticipated by most.  Polson securing the consolation championship opened the door for a challenge game against Whitefish for the right to represent the NWA Conference as its second-seeded team at the state tournament.  Few expected an outsized Pirate squad to pose much of a threat to the taller Bulldogs with their quartet of TOP THIRTEEN scorers in 6-8 post Garrett Anderson, 6-4 forward (golf 2x all-state, 3x NWA div champ, 3x all-conf) Art Doorn as well as shooting guard EJ Havens and scoring forward Keaton Nicholson.   Not to be downplayed, the showdown was a battle with a pair of quarter juncture ties and a slim two point margin midway through the final quarter.  But when the final seconds ticked away from the clock, it would be the Polson Pirates who would emerge as the team that would be heading off to the State A Tournament in Great Falls.




Football all-state, twice defensive all-conference (1st-tm 13 S, 2nd-tm 12 CB) as well as offensive all-conference (1st-tm WR) and basketball all-conference 2nd-team senior 5-11 guard Cedrick Smith  can sometimes seem to undergo a kind of Transformers-like metamorphosis during the course of a game when his quality of play accelerates like he has an additional gear in his transmission along with some extra spring exhibited in his jump.  Should Smith morph  into what this writer has come to identify as “Ced mode” during the course of a game, opponents soon discover that they will have their hands full with a formidable adversary infused with some savvy basketball moxie.     Smith has turned in two dozen career double figure scoring performances and is less than three dozen away from his prep varsity career 500th point as well as only 8 dishes shy of the century mark in assists for his prep varsity career.


Football two-time all-conference (QB - 2nd-tm 13, hm 12) senior 6-3 forward/post Andrew Weltz passed for over twenty two hundred career yards on the gridiron as quarterback and has threaded the roundball through the net this season for over 300 points that includes sixteen double figure scoring performances.  Weltz has strong representation among a half dozen  NWA TOP TEN statistical categories, indicative of a key role he plays as one of the leaders among the team.    He is just a smidge less than twenty boards away from acquiring his 200th prep varsity career rebound, the majority of them being reeled in this season.    Weltz tends to be a key weld for the seams of the Polson offense when he performs at optimum levels, inflicting welts upon the defensive strategies of opponents which tend to bode well for the fortunes of the Pirates and lends itself more often than not toward another “W” as in win. 


Junior 5-11 guard Chris McDonald tends to be a multiple threat at both the offensive as well as defensive ends of the court.  His first score at the state tournament will provide the Pirates with their fifth century club member for points scored during the course of the season.  He is also just a half dozen away from tallying his 100th prep varsity career rebound.   McDonald accentuates the quality level of his play with an aptitude for anticipation, enabling him to jump lanes to snare a pass from its intended target or glide into position to gather in an errant shot attempt with a rebound.


Football all-conference (hm CB) sophomore 6-2 forward Hudson Smith might seem like his reach employs go-go-Gadget-like qualities from the perspective of shooters when they are forced to alter the trajectory of their shot attempts, but it is just his capable hands at work that also tend to make good things happen  at the offensive end of the floor with their baskets. 


Football all-conference (hm WR) freshman 6-0 guard/forward Tanner Wilson infuses the backcourt with speed, sound ball handling skills as well as an aptitude for the game that extends beyond his underclassman status.  He is a century mark contributor to the Pirate scoring coffers for the season as well as their third leading dispenser of assists and pilferer of steals.  Wilson was an integral part of a quartet who went undefeated at the Spokane 3-on-3 tournament to win their age bracket this past summer, sending teams from Seattle, Spokane and Bozeman back to the hotel to pack their bags for home.


Junior 5-8 guard Andrew Curley could be considered one of the more widely traveled players on the roster, but he has definitely found himself a home with Polson this season.   Curley is another century mark contributor among Pirate scorers with a trio of double figure scoring outings this season as well as infuses the backcourt with some additional speed and quickness.   His shooting touch has been heating up the second half of the season and his presence on the court is a contributing factor to the improving fortunes of the Pirates.   For readers who may wish to  view a feature article about Andrew Curley similar to some of the PREP EXTRA coverage the Missoulian includes among many of their Thursday editions, reference is made to the article by Lake County Leader Sports Editor Mark Robertson entitled “Wind in his Sails: Things are falling into place for Polson junior Andrew Curley” Lake County Leader (Thursday, 27 February 2014) A1,5 [cyberlink: <  http://www.leaderadvertiser.com/sports/article_e1621d3c-9ff6-11e3-a10a-0019bb2963f4.html  >].


Football all-conference (hm IL) junior 6-1 post/forward Joe Gallatin adds versatility to the Pirate lineup where his contributions have been chiefly in a supportive role.  Some of his fortes include denying opponents access to the paint around the basket with strategic positioning as well as crashing the boards for rebounds.  One highlight reel play during the NWA Divisional challenge game against Whitefish involved snaring a troublesome recoil from a Bulldog missed shot while tip-toeing the endline and deftly flipping the ball into the hands of an open teammate before losing his balance to retain possession of the ball in favor of the Pirates.


Sophomore 5-9 guard Payton Lefthand is one of the Pirate reserves who can be called upon for ball handling assignments as well as for setting the table for teammates by keeping a wary eye on the lookout for an assist.   His shooting touch from mid-range as well as long distance mark him as a scoring threat when left unattended.  Lefthand has contributed one double figure scoring performance thus far this season even though while playing only sparingly in relief of starters.


Freshman 6-1 forward Matthew Rensvold moved up the ladder from the developmental squads in large measure because he kept posting multiple double-doubles in the games he played in at those levels.  Consequently, his availability provides the Pirates with an additional asset for both scoring as well as rebounding.  Rensvold has tallied one double figure scoring performance thus far while almost netting another even though he has only been part of the roster half the season.  His shooting touch from the field as well as the charity stripe currently lie within the 60th percentile range.   Rensvold  is another player among the quartet which went undefeated at the Spokane 3-on-3 tournament this past summer in their age bracket.


The most recent additions to the Pirate roster include a pair of sophomores in 6-2 forward/post Wyatt Ducharme and 5-10 guard Jacob Harrod.  Both have made contributions to the varsity scoring coffers thus far this season with the minutes they have played in relief of others.   Ducharme adds some additional height to the roster, while  Harrod seems to exhibit both an aptitude for anticipation as well as peripheral vision for creating opportunities for his teammates.  One of the most colorful illustrations that involves these two players took place at the JV level in a game against visiting Frenchtown when Harrod lofted the ball inbounds from the sideline to Ducharme vectoring toward the basket.  The latter went airborne to tip-touch the ball off the glass and into the net to break a deadlocked tie for the win with less than a second remaining on the clock.  


Managerial, statistical as well as other logistical support has been conducted throughout the course of the season by Jaelyn Ellenwood, Nicole Howell and Kaitlyn Burrowes. 




Fifth year varsity coach Brad Pluff embarks upon his fourth trip in five seasons to the state tournament showcase, aided by assistant coaches Colton Woods, Vern Hewankorn and Joey Kolattukudy.   The NWA second-seeded Polson Pirates may be bringing in tow a less than intimidating 7-15 record, but they are playing their best basketball at this crucial juncture of the season.  The players have been exuding a rarely seen air of confidence among their demeanor along with a bit of well-deserved swashbuckler swagger based on the quality level of their play on the hardcourt over the course of these past several games.  If they continue to play at this kind of level, they merit being reevaluated by pundits and prognosticators as a team to be reckoned with.   


Although the Pirates may lack a dominating inside presence like that of a 6-8 Garrett Anderson of Whitefish or a top gun trey shooting specialist like John Chapman of Frenchtown, the Pirates have forged their own version of an inside-outside combination that has contributed much to the position they find themselves at right now.  Polson has at least a half dozen contributors to its outside game that could be labeled as so-called telephone operators, namely those who exhibit a capability for being able to dial long distance and complete the call from behind the arc for a trey.  A trio have already netted triples tallying in double figures on the season, another is on the verge of joining them, while another trio in conjunction together combine for netting treys in double figure territory.   As long as Polson exercises sound shot selectivity of a high percentage kind, whether it pertains to their inside game or their outside opportunities, their chances of making a run deep into the bracket have to be considered as good as anybody elses.   


As state tournament clashes get underway, the season starts afresh for all teams involved.  Previous records have limited bearing other than as a barometer for gauging the past that is past.  They simply do not convey sufficient data about present performance.  What will manifest itself will more than likely be a menagerie of mascot mayhem.  Beavers will try to outgnaw Yellowjackets, Locomotives will attempt to outrun Cowboys, Cats will seek to claw Blue Ponies into submission, while Panthers will try to do what they can with their own claws to pierce the Pirates.  A glance at Class A standings around the state indicates ten teams with records better than that of Polson entering State A competition, but all of them will be at home listening to the tournament on the radio or following its progress by reading their local newspapers.   Their alleged superior records did little to advance them through divisional competition to secure a slot in the State A Tournament at Great Falls.   All to say that was then, this is now.


The Wave the Flag - Purple & Gold fanbase situated within Pirate country would like nothing better to transpire than for the opponents matched up against their Polson basketball squad to overly fixate on their less than impressive record and look past a team that is playing some of its best basketball at this juncture of the season.  Nothing would please them more than to have their Pirates be overlooked and then have them advance through the bracket as deeply as they are able to sail.  From the perspective of this writer, the best chance opposing teams have of scuttling the Pirate ship is if they somehow find a way to foul their sparkplugs so that the engine sputters or the squad regresses to a state of affairs more symptomatic of an earlier juncture of the regular schedule struggles.  But if these Polson Pirate ladds succeed in executing the kind of quality basketball that it has exhibited throughout the course of the NWA Divisional Tournament, the Pirates could stage some upsets along the way by toppling pre-tournament favorites.  Tis never who has the better record entering the tournament who prevails.  It is the team that executes more consistently than the other team during the course of their state tournament encounters and does so with just enough of an edge that their point total is just a tad better than that of the other team.  As this finale to the Montana prep basketball season winds down with its state championship aspirations narrowed down to eight contenders, some dreams will crumble, others will survive for another day, but advocates of these remaining mascots everywhere look forward to the playing of some exceptional prep basketball in the meantime. 


Polson opens State A Tournament play against top-seeded Central A champion Belgrade at 8:00 pm Thursday, 6 March 2014 in Great Falls.  

stats courtesy of Terry Werner culled from nwmta <ihigh.com/nwmta> website archives

select player input provided courtesy of the basketball coaching staff

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