Malta tips Wolf Point in one of best ever

Absolutely, we were going to watch as long as they were going to play. Northeast Division rivals Malta and Wolf Point played one of the best basketball games in Montana sports history Saturday at the Butte Civic Center.

The ingredients included it being for the State Class B boys’ championship, that it went to triple overtime, that it matched the winners of the prior two state B titles and that they played to win with gutsy shots and diving scrambles for the ball.

Malta came out the winner, 66-62. Both deserved the applause.

The girls’ title game that followed showed Fairfield holding a 5-6 halftime command. The Eagles were seeking their 78th consecutive win. Both teams were undefeated going into the fray.

Townsend, however, was without leader Jacy Thompson, who suffered a knee injury Friday night.


Malta 66, Wolf Point 62 (3 OT)

Without having seen all the basketball games played in Montana this year it would be difficult to guarantee that this one for the State Class B boys’ championship was the greatest. Definitely stamp it a contender, a strong, one for the honor though.

Kendall Denham’s steal under the basket he turned into a layup at the 3-minute, 25-second juncture of the third overtime finally gave Malta the lead, 62-60, for good and the Mustangs went on to win their second straight state title, edging 2011 state champ Wolf Point.

Malta needed a a falling-away 3-point basket by Zach Handley at the end of the second overtime to tie the count at 60-all and send the title tilt into its third extra period.

After Denham gave the Mustangs the lead, teammate Dalton Brooke canned one of two free throws. Wolf Point starter Patrick Lamey fouled out on the call, following teammate Hayden Hanks to the bench with their quotas.

A missed Wolves opportunity put the ball back in Malta’s hands and Handley netted two foul shots after being an infraction by Tyson Bridges. The spread was now 65-60 with only 44 seconds left as Malta slowed down play and kept the ball out front.

The Wolves missed a couple more chances, including a 3-pointer, before Malta reserve Spencer Vanwichen netted a charity toss with 4 seconds left for the four-point difference that finally clinched the victory.

Butte sports historian Pat Kearney confirmed that the game marked only the third time ever that a state high school basketball tournament championship game reached three overtimes. The others, also in boys’ play, saw Helena Capital nudge Billings Senior 46-45 in the 1983 Class AA tourney, and Malta top Browning 95-90 in the 1985 Class B championship.

Mechiah Zilkoski of Wolf Point banked home a jumper with a second on the clock, gathering an inbound pass and then cutting loose, to send the game into overtime tied 48-all in Saturday night‘s championship game.

Tucker Schye caged a turnaround jumper from inside the key with 1:08 to go in OT, tying the score 54-all which it was when the second overtime period went up on the clock. Attempts by both teams in the last minute of the first extra frame failed, including one by Handley on a falling-away 3-point attempt that looked to skip across the top of the hoop.

The Wolves held a 60-56 lead after Easton Copenhaver scored on a layup off a pass from Matthew Weeks with 1:10 to go in double overtime. However, the Mustangs came back with a Kaden Bedwell free throw that cut the lead to a point with 56 seconds to go. Then, after turnovers, Handley drilled a 3-pointer to tie at 60-all with 15 seconds on the clock. The score stood to the buzzer, bringing on the third OT.

Denham finished with 22 points for Malta, which completed a 25-3 season. He also had 10 steals and three assists in an outstanding effort. Handley and Schye notched 17 points apiece. The 6-foot-4 Schye pulled down 13 rebounds.

Wolf Point went 19-8 for the season. Wolf leaders in the championship game included Weeks with 22 points, Zilkoski with 18 points and 14 rebounds, Copenhaver with 16 points and six assists, and Laney with 15 rebounds.

Florence 61, Bigfork 49

Florence capped off a 24-2 season with the third-place trophy at the State Class B boys’ basketball tournament in the Civic Center Saturday. The Falcons looked like an elite team, too.

The team sees the court well and plays its whole length, especially on the offensive possession. All passes were nearly pinpoint, even the long ones.

The movement allowed Florence to play at a fast pace and the Falcons made good use of 6-foot-4 senior Aaron Ward as a finisher. The passers found him often around the basket from where he would drive or post up while scoring his 17 points.

Ward ran the floor well, too, frequently out front on the fast breaks and taking down court passes like a post-pattern receiver to execute the fast-break opportunities.

Bigfork, a good and familiar rival, was unable to keep pace and wound up with fourth place, still a very good showing in a competitive Class B.

The Falcons, coached by Sam Baerlocher, used their athleticism to create advantageous spacing, putting the Vikings in chasing position too much of the time, offensively and defensively.

Ryne Baerlocher, a 6-3 senior, led the scoring with 21 points. His brother, Rhett, a 6-3 sophomore, tallied 12.  Both are sons of the coach.

Austin Jordt scored 13 points to lead Bigfork. Christian Evans netted 11.


Colstrip 59, Deer Lodge 40

Colstrip avenged its first-round loss of the State Class B girls’ baskeball tournament at the Butte Civic Center by beating Deer Lodge in the consolation final Saturday.

The Fillies didn’t take control of the game until the third quarter when they grabbed a lead, held it, and used free throw shooting to expand on it and claim the third-place trophy.

Back-to-back steal-and-layup plays by Tori Rootes and Kile Denny put Colstrip ahead 40-36 early in the fourth quarter and Deer Lodge never got the lead or pulled even again. The Wardens had held edges of 9-7 after one quarter, 25-20 at halftime and 34-30 through three frames.

The Fillies netted 29 points in the fourth quarter, many of them coming on the 16-for-24 free throws they converted for the game. Rootes finished with a game-high 21 points, including going 9-for-10 from the foul line.

Deer Lodge had done a superb job of using its quickness to combat the much bigger size Colstrip possessed.

The 5-foot-11 Rootes, however, was a tough contestant throughout the game. She almost staked the Fillies to an early advantage, however Annie Lombardi came off the Deer Lodge bench and sparked the Wardens with a strong drive that challenged Rootes and got the much littler Deer Lodge player to the free throw, helping to create a 7-4 edge.

The Wardens went cold from the field in the second period, but used an aggressive defense to slow the Fillies. However, fouls began mounting and Deer Lodge gave up the lead as Colstrip used its height advantage in gaining easier shots within the key.

The Wardens surged once more before halftime, however, as Michelle Christnacht banked home a 3-point basket that ignited a spree, which also featured a Bailee Senecal drive through the paint and, suddenly, Deer Lodge had the 25-20 halftime lead.

The second half started slowly. Christnacht’s two free throws with 6 minutes, 41 seconds on the clock counted for the first points of the third quarter. The play in the frame was ragged, a rough-and-tumble version that seemed to show the tiredness of both teams. The Wardens and the Fillies had each won a loser-out game Saturday morning to reach the consolation final, their fourth game in three days against strong competition.

Rootes was the only double-figure scorer in the game and she also pulled down seven rebounds. Jere Dennehy led the Fillies on the boards with seven rebounds. Denny was second-high in points with nine. Emily Kautzman scored seven.

Deer Lodge leaders included Lacie Thomas and Christnacht with nine points each, Shayla Therriault with seven points, DanI Walker with six rebounds, Thomas with three assists and Senecal with six steals.

Colstrip scored 17 points off turnovers and welcomed 19 points from its bench. The Wardens had seven points fro their reserves and caged 11 points off turnovers.

Deer Lodge fini9shed a shiny 25-3 season and Colstrip wound up with a sparkling 26-4 campaign.