Beavers reach championship game

By Derek Hendrickson

GREAT FALLS — The Dillon Beavers advanced to the Class A State Championship Game with a 51-35 win over the Belgrade Panthers Friday evening at the Four Seasons Arena.

Dillon defeated Belgrade in the semifinal round for the second time this season, matching their 48-14 win in football. The Beavers will face Columbia Falls, who also was a state semifinalist on the gridiron.

This was a physical, hard fought contest, befitting of a semifinal game.

In the end Dillon was just too much for the Panthers, who were forced into 20 turnovers and only had one player score more than six points.

Dillon was led by their seniors Troy Scott and Chance Kluesner. Scott put in 15 efficient points as he only attempted eight shots and also dished out a game high four assists.

Kluesner stepped up and scored 11, four of which came during a key stretch in the first half with the game tied in the second quarter and then the first 6 points of the second half, which quickly turned a six-point lead into 12.

Dillon Head Coach Terry Thomas had high praise for both his seniors after the game, saying, “Troy is such a great player, he has such a great skill set, he can play inside or out.  For Chance to be able to hover around that three point line and hit those shots to break that zone open.”

Kluesner remained confident despite some late season struggles.  He talked about it during the postgame, saying, “myself, towards the end of the year I had quite a bit of a slump, a little lack of confidence but when I got those open shots I was going to knock them down.  As a team we’re here at state, we are realizing it’s a big deal.  First quarter was a little tight and we were all a little nervous I think, but we snapped out of it quick.”

Scott gave all the credit to Kluesner as well when asked about his fellow senior after the game, saying “he’s a very consistent shooter, he can hit the outside shots and he’s just a great teammate to play with, a great leader on the floor and off the floor.”

Belgrade got 13 points out of Shiloh Christopher, 11 of which came in the second half as he tried to help keep the Panthers close.

Belgrade Head Coach Mike Deming was proud of his team’s fight after the game and also spoke highly of Dillon’s seniors.

“We battled as hard as we could, I was so proud of the way we fought, obviously they caused problems with turnovers,” he said. “I thought that was the key, but to have your two seniors on their team make huge shots to start the second half, those two shots by Chance to start the half, were right in it and it was something we had a hard time overcoming.  Great shots by the seniors on their team, credit to them, they played well.  We battled back, just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Dillon played a smothering defense in the first half, allowing only 12 Belgrade points and then finally started clicking on offense themselves in the third quarter, when they hit four threes in quick succession that Coach Deming spoke about, two each by Kluesner and Scott, it pushed the lead to 30-16.

Belgrade hung tough the rest of the third but took another momentum changing shot when Nate Simkins found himself surrounded in the corner with time winding down.  After having the ball knocked loose he calmly picked it back up, threw a quick shot fake, stepped to his right and drained an 18 foot leaner to put the Beavers up 34-19.

The Panthers got back to within 10 but a tough call went against them and cost them a senior starter when Trevor Mahn drove the lane and lofted up a shot that went in but he collided with Scott under the hoop and a charge was called.  Instead of a possible seven-point game it was Mahn’s fifth foul.

Belgrade continued to try and get back in the game.  The Panthers employed a hack-a-Shaq technique by grabbing Trae Williams, which initially had some modest results as he went 3 for 7 from the line but after an intentional foul was called the plan was scrapped with Dillon leading 46-33.

Scott spoke about the hardnosed game with Belgrade, saying, “when you get to this level everyone’s a threat.  No matter what, doesn’t matter what their record is, if they are able to make it to the semifinal game and go right to the championship, it’s going to be a war.”

Belgrade came to play and despite getting outscored 9-3 in the first put together an 8-2 spurt to open the second and tie the game at 11 midway through the quarter, forcing a Dillon timeout.  Both teams struggled early to score and were content to work the ball around, probing for an opening.

The Beavers responded with many of the backups in the game after Richardson and Scott both picked up their second fouls early in quarter two.  Kluesner hit four straight free throws and then Justin Ferris just missed on a three, freshman Tanner Haverfield was there for board and kicked it right back to Ferris who was true on his second try from deep and Dillon had their biggest lead of the half at 18-11.

The deliberate pace of the first half resulted in only 15 field goal attempts for Belgrade, of which they connected on 5, and 14 for the Beavers who, made six.  Dillon’s pressure did force 11 turnovers but they also struggled to hold on to the ball, giving up seven of their own.

The Panthers fall to 16-7 on the year with the loss and will play Havre tomorrow morning at 11 with the consolation final one win away.

Scott spoke about the upcoming title tilt against the Wildcats.

“I’m excited to play them, they look like a good and I know we’re a good team,” he said. “I’m just excited to show the state what we got.”

Kluesner encouraged readers to come watch when asked about the upcoming final with Columbia Falls, he said “really tough team, but I think you will all be in for a show if you can make it.”

Coach Thomas made it sound like the Beavers will have their hands full in the chipper.  He said of Columbia Falls, “they’ve got a great team, a lot of height, their guards shoot the ball really well.  They have everything it takes to be a great, quality team.  They play great defense and rebound the ball hard so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Dillon and Columbia Falls will meet in the title game for the fourth tie since 2009. Dillon is 2-1 in those games.

Dillon 51, Belgrade 35

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