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Warriors earn trip to State C Tournament championship game

By B.L. Azure

State C Tournament final pairings

• Thursday, March 9
Opening Round
Arlee 93, Plenty Coups 87
Hays-Lodgepole 62, Fairview 59
Manhattan Christian 60, Bridger 42
Scobey 73, Box Elder 61 (OT)

• Friday, March 10
Loser out
Fairview 75, Plenty Coups 72
Box Elder 62, Bridger 50
Semifinals
Arlee 81, Hays-Lodgepole 71
Manhattan Christian 74, Scobey 53

• Saturday, March 11
Loser out
Hays-Lodgepole 69, Box Elder 60
Scobey 57, Fairview 48
Consolation
Scobey 74, Hays-Lodgepole 72
Championship
Arlee 71, Manhattan Christian 67

BOZEMAN — The Arlee Warriors went 2-0 in the opening round Thursday and semifinal round Friday of the State Class C Basketball Tournament to earn a spot in the Saturday night championship game.

The Warriors topped the Plenty Coups Warriors of the Crow Reservation in the opening round high scoring Rez-baller 93-87. That win put Arlee in a semifinal match up against the Hays Lodge Pole Thunderbirds of the Fort Belknap Reservation that they won 81-71. That set up a rematch with Manhattan Christian Eagles, a team they beat in the Western C Divisional Tournament two weeks earlier.

Arlee 93, Plenty Coups 87
Warrior Phillip Malatare came on like gangbusters in the Arlee’s opening round game against the Plenty Coups Warriors. But he was not alone. Will Mesteth and Tyler Tanner were part of the gang triumvirate who orchestrated the dominating victory over Plenty Coups. 

After a close tit for tat first quarter in which Plenty Coups had its only lead, a brief 2-point upper hand they maintained for a bit more than a minute to close out the first quarter to take a 19-17 lead into the second quarter.

The Arlee Warriors found their range in the second quarter and began to hit the bottom of the bucket consistently and outscored Plenty Coups 33-21 to take a 50-30 halftime lead. 

The Plenty Coups Warriors bounced back a bit with Ethan Lambert leading the way in the third quarter with a 23-20 advantage to go into the fourth on the short end of the 70-63 score.

Arlee sealed the victory with a solid fourth where they outgunned Plenty Coups 23-14 to walk off the court with a 93-77 victory that earned them a semifinal encounter with the Hays Lodge Pole Thunderbirds. The two teams met in the opening weekend of the season at the Indian Basketball Classic Tournament in Havre. The Warriors won that December 9 game 67-56, one of the two losses the Thunderbirds had prior to the State C Tournament. The other came at the hands of defending State C champion Box Elder Bears.

“They had a great game,” Thunderbird guard Frank Runs Above told the Billings Gazette. “We’re looking forward to do it again.”

Despite the high scoring output of the game the Warriors shot 45.5 percent from the field. Some speculated it was due to having to adjust to the wide openness of the Brick Breeden Field House that could potentially hamper depth perception for the un-baptized. Arlee coach Zanen Pitts said some of his charges felt that way.

But a victory is a victory and it is the final score that dictates wins and losses more than shooting percentages.

“I didn’t feel like we played the way we wanted to play. Then again, we got the win and that’s all that matters,” Malatare told the Billings Gazette. “It’s just another step closer to where we want to be.”

Phillip Malatare led Arlee with 32 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists, 6 steals and 3 blocked shots; Will Mesteth had 26 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals, and Tyler Tanner had 22 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals.

Ethan Lambert led Plenty Coups with 30 points; Blake DeCrane had 18 and Arlo Male Bear Jr. had 9 points.

Arlee 81, Hays Lodge Pole 71
The next step to where the Warriors wanted to eventually be was the same step the Thunderbirds wanted to take and that led them both to a rematch in the semifinal game of the State C Tournament.

In the shadowboxing first quarter both teams were trying to get their gauge of the other and their sights set on the bucket. The hectic paced first saw the teams go up and down the court and back and forth with the lead while shooting an anemic 30ish percent from the field. The Thunderbirds were 4 of 13 from the field and the Warriors hit 5 of 15. The Thunderbirds made 3 of 4 free throws while the Warriors drew blanks on 2 attempts. Hays Lodge Pole led 12-11 after one.

The Warriors stoked the coals in the second quarter and fired things up with a 71.4 percent shooting from the field with a 10-14 effort. But it was the Thunderbirds who came out of the chutes bucking. The Thunderbirds knocked down 5 points to go up by 6 (17-11) early. Then the Warriors with Malatare and Mesteth leading the charge went on an 11-3 run to go up 22-20 with 5:36 remaining in the quarter. The Thunderbirds would never regain the lead after that although they pulled within 1 point halfway through the quarter. Then the Warriors with Malatare, Mesteth and Tanner exploding went on a 16-6 run to close out the second and take an 11-point (40-29) halftime lead.

The Warriors were able to maintain their lead in the second half by keeping pace with the Thunderbirds offensive effort. The Thunderbirds whittled the score to 50-46 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. Then Mesteth canned a pair of 3s in the last 30 seconds before Thunderbird Jace Shambo closed out the stanza with a down low bucket at the buzzer to put the score at 56-48 in Arlee’s favor going into the fourth. The Warriors outscored Hays Lodge Pole 25-23 in the fourth to account for the final 81-71 tally in favor of the Warriors.

Will Mesteth led Arlee with 28 points — he was 9 or 12 from the field that included an on target 6 for 7 from 3-point range; Tyler Tanner had 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Phillip Malatare 19 points.

Mesteth gave thanks to his fellow Warriors for feeding him the ball. “They knew I was hitting. I knew I was hot and they got me ball at the right time,” he said. “My shot felt good tonight.”

Hays Lodge Pole coach Derrick Shambo said the Warriors on-target shooters were a problem his team could not harness.

“The depth of the shooters they have, it’s hard to contain them,” Shambo said. “Whatever we threw at them, they swung it to the open guy. I thought we held our own pretty good and we played with a lot of heart. They hit the 3s when it counted.”

Hays Lodge Pole was led by Jace Shambo with 23 points and 10 rebounds; Frank Runs Above had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Tyson Shambo had 11 points and 7 rebounds.

The Warriors win set up a rematch with Manhattan Christian. The Eagles topped the Scobey Spartans 74-53 in the other semifinal game to earn a chance to avenge its Western C Divisional Tournament championship game 85-67 loss to Arlee on February 25.
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