That was a fun basketball season, huh?
Saturday night did it justice, too, with some great consolation and championship games to close the final chapter of the 2013-14 prep season, culminating with the double-overtime thriller in Bozeman.
It took everything Fairfield had, but the Lady Eagles won their 104th consecutive game and fourth straight State B championship by beating Malta 60-55. Jill Barta had a lot to do with it, scoring 41 points – 21 straight – and grabbing 18 rebounds. She forced the second overtime by hitting a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Check out this Instagram video from Cara Grewell of Barta's shot.
The Gatorade player of the year proved her worth with a performance of the ages.
With that, here are my postseason awards, which are completely unofficial and don’t mean anything. Coaches decide the official honors, and those will come out in the coming weeks.
Girls player of the year: Barta
During the Class AA championship when Missoula Sentinel was running away from Billings West, I really thought I would be typing Olivia Roberts’ name in this category. Roberts is a great player who had a great career, which will continue at the University of Wyoming.
But Barta carried her team to another state championship, while putting up monster numbers all season long. The 6-foot-4 forward can do it all, including a much underrated perimeter game. She’ll be at Gonzaga next fall.
Boys player of the year: Tres Tinkle
Montana’s junior class is loaded with elite talent, and Tinkle of Missoula Hellgate is widely regarded as the best of the bunch. The smooth lefty played well all season, improving off of last year’s incredible campaign where he guided the Knights to the state title.
Tinkle has one year of high school left, but this upcoming summer is a big one for him. He’s already drawing interest from some big college programs, but that interest will likely increase as he hits the AAU circuit in July.
Most underrated girls player: Jessi Zuroff
Zuroff rarely filled up the stat sheet, but she was very important to what West was able to do this season under first-year coach Charlie Johnson. Zuroff, who was able to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor, regularly drew the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best player.
In the Bears’ semifinal overtime win over Helena Capital, Zuroff came up huge with a scoring run in the second half and by grabbing a number of key offensive rebounds.
Most underrated boys player: Kyle Harrington
Capital used a balanced, team-first approach on its way to the State AA championship. Harrington embodied that as much as anyone, and his leadership was huge for the Bruins. Harrington was a tough-as-nails defender and competitor this season, while filling in as an adequate scorer.
Girls up-and-comer: Sophia Stiles
Stiles, a freshman at Malta, has a chance to be a really special player. She has long arms and plays with a lot of “bounce,” which allows her to get into passing lanes and cause a lot of havoc on the defensive end. She has a nice shot, too, so she’ll be able to beat teams on both ends of the floor for the next three seasons.
Boys up-and-comer: Payton Stott
Stott had his moments this season. As a sophomore, though, he was behind senior guards Jacob Smyle and Baylee Slevira in the rotation. He’ll likely move into the starting lineup next season, where his primary job will be putting Nolan McHugh, Kendal Manuel and Tre’von Strong in position to score. Stott will certainly get his points, though.
Girls coach of the year: Nate Hammond
Malta had a phenomenal season under Hammond, who was in his first year with the program and former coach in Bigfork. The M-ettes only had two losses on the season – both to Fairfield – and nearly won the State B title with a young, developing roster. With the Eagles’ dominant run likely over with the graduation of Barta and three other seniors, Hammond and his Malta team could step in.
Boys coach of the year: Josh Downey
Downey was another first-year coach with his program, and he guided Bigfork to an undefeated season and first basketball title in program history. The Vikings only returned one starter from last year’s team, but they didn’t miss a beat in the 2013-14 season. They beat State A champion Columbia Falls twice on their way to a 26-0 season.