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Arlee takes Manhattan FTW

Warriors win one for themselves, the Jocko Valley and Flathead Reservation
By B.L. Azure

The jubilant 27-1 Arlee Warriors are the Montana State C Basketball Tournament Champions. (B.L. Azure photo) The jubilant 27-1 Arlee Warriors are the Montana State C Basketball Tournament Champions. (B.L. Azure photo)

BOZEMAN — And then there was one Class C team standing a top the pile. That one is the Arlee Warriors who on Saturday night got the better of the Manhattan Christian Eagles in the championship game of the Montana State C Basketball Tournament.

The Arlee Warriors successfully navigated their opening round game against the Plenty Coups Warriors and semifinal game against the Hays Lodge Pole Thunderbirds to earn one of two spots in the State Class C Basketball Tournament championship game. The other spot was earned by the Manhattan Christian Eagles whom the Warriors beat 85-67 in the Western C Divisional Tournament championship game on February 25.

“I am happy with this victory,” Arlee coach Zanen Pitts said following the divisional championship game. “I am proud of the boys but our journey is incomplete. We have a few more steps to take. This win is just another hurdle on our quest for the state championship. This win means nothing to the guys if they don’t cut down the nets and hold the state championship trophy Saturday night in Bozeman.”

Standout Warrior Phillip Malatare concurred.

“We have to stay focused on the mission ahead of us. We can’t stray from it and need to stay focused in our practice in preparation for state,” Malatare said after the divisional championship game. “We have three more games ahead of us but we have to look ahead one game at a time.”

Warrior Phillip Malatare lays in a deuce over Manhattan Christian’s Ryan Busch in the State C Tournament championship game. (B.L. Azure photo) Warrior Phillip Malatare lays in a deuce over Manhattan Christian’s Ryan Busch in the State C Tournament championship game. (B.L. Azure photo)

They did that and they found themselves in the State C Tournament championship game against Manhattan Christian.

Arlee 71, Manhattan Christian 67
The Eagles didn’t waste time making a statement. They scooted out to a 6-0 less than a minute into the game. The Warriors called a time out with 7:15 remaining in the opening stanza. They cooled down mentally and heated up physically and followed a T.O. with an 11-5 run to knot the score at 11-11 with 2:30 remaining in the first. The Eagles responded with an 8-2 run to close out the quarter to take a 19-13 lead into the second quarter.

The Warriors outscored the Eagles 19-16 in the second quarter to put the score at 35-32 at the half in favor of Manhattan Christian.

The Warriors opened the third quarter like the Eagles did in the first quarter. They went on an 8-2 spurt to go up 40-37 with 6:41 remaining in the third. Then the Eagles and Warriors would exchange baskets the remainder of the quarter and Arlee held a narrow 1-point lead (47-46) after three.

Warrior Tyler Tanner scoots by Manhattan Christian Eagle James Ramierz en route to the bucket in the State C Tournament championship game. (B.L. Azure photo) Warrior Tyler Tanner scoots by Manhattan Christian Eagle James Ramierz en route to the bucket in the State C Tournament championship game. (B.L. Azure photo)

It was more of the same in the final quarter until the Warriors broke away from a 52-52 tie with 5:27 remaining in the game with a 13-4 run led by Malatare, Willie Mesteth, Tyler Tanner and Alex Moran to go up 65-56 with 2:32 left in the fourth. The Eagles chipped away at the lead but the Warriors were able to keep them at bay and no closer than 4 points the rest of the game. The 4 points were the final margin of the 71-67 championship game victory.

“Manhattan Christian is a very good team. They came out tough and ready to play and got that 6-0 lead. We came out with a little bit of the jitters, some butterflies and Manhattan took advantage of that, they did a hell of a job,” Tanner said, adding that an offensive adjustment and the Warriors relentless and pesky defense got them back on track to counter the Eagles opening offensive salvo. “Basketball is often a game of runs and we knew we would get back into the game if we executed our game plan and adjusted to the things they threw our way. We spent all of last week practicing a lot of different scenarios that might come our way. We did what we had to do to win this game. We extended the court and took some threes and hit the jump shots and got rid of the butterflies. We are the rankest players in the state and we’re hard to beat.”

Warrior Tyler Tanner led Arlee with 24 points and 14 rebounds; Phillip Malatare had 20 points and Will Mesteth 17.

Eagle Caleb Bellach led Manhattan Christian with 22; James Ramirez had 18 points and Parker Dyksterhouse 8.

The State C Tournament was the first state basketball championship trophy won by the Warriors although they have been to the big dance quite often recently. They finished second last season and lost in the semifinals the year before.

There were a lot of happy faces following the Warriors championship victory, which was a dream come true for all Warriors and the Jocko Valley folks but especially the three youngsters — Tyler Tanner, Phillip Malatare and Alex Morant — in the middle who have been playing together since they were toddlers. From left are Warrior coach Zanen Pitts with Warriors Tanner, Malatare, Moran, Cody Tanner and Darshan Bolen. (B.L. Azure photo) There were a lot of happy faces following the Warriors championship victory, which was a dream come true for all Warriors and the Jocko Valley folks but especially the three youngsters — Tyler Tanner, Phillip Malatare and Alex Morant — in the middle who have been playing together since they were toddlers. From left are Warrior coach Zanen Pitts with Warriors Tanner, Malatare, Moran, Cody Tanner and Darshan Bolen. (B.L. Azure photo)

“This feels great,” said senior Warrior guard Moran basking in the bittersweet afterglow of topping the tall, thick, relatively quick, jumping-jack Manhattan Christian Eagles in the championship game of the 2016-2017 Class C Tournament. It was the second time the Warriors topped the Eagles in two weeks; the first time was in the Western C Divisional championship game at Butte. “We worked our butts off for this trophy. It’s not just for us but for the whole (Arlee/Jocko Valley) community, the whole (Flathead) Reservation.”

Dewy sweat beading down his forehead mixed with misty tears as he recalled the road taken and reason for taking it. It was a long journey that Moran began when he was bouncing the basketball as preschooler. Two other prominent members of the Warriors championship team — senior guard Tanner and junior guard Malatare — road shotgun with Moran on the long journey. During that time they played together in organized basketball as well as the summer 3-on-3 tournament circuit.

For the last seven years Moran’s road to the basketball championship was guided by his personal angel, his mother Lynette (Malatare) Moran, who at the age of 42 on July 4, 2010 succumbed to the onset of sepsis, a result of treatment related to an eight-year battle with leukemia.

“The three of us since we were little dreamed about this. Our goal was set a long time ago,” Moran said with the net from one of the baskets draped around his neck. It was a manifestation of the come-true dream. “Mom always said we were going to win this someday, it was a dream of hers. We worked hard to prove she was right. She was. She has been with us all along. She wanted this too. Her dream has come true.”

Warrior Will Mesteth had an outstanding State C Tournament and he will be back next year seeking more trophies for the Warriors. (B.L. Azure photo) Warrior Will Mesteth had an outstanding State C Tournament and he will be back next year seeking more trophies for the Warriors. (B.L. Azure photo)

Moran said winning the championship was redemption from the gut-punch the Warriors took in the 2015-16 State C Tournament championship game when they lost to the Box Elder Bears. The Bears were once again at the State C Tournament this year but were eliminated in the Saturday morning loser-out game.

The Warriors finished the season with a 27-1 record. The lone loss was to the Plains Horsemen early in the season, the Warriors won the regular season rematch as well as beating Plains in the District 14-C Tournament championship game in mid-February.

Moran added that the recent cluster of deaths by suicide on the Flathead Reservation also fueled the Warriors will-to-win. “The deaths in the community have been very troublesome for everyone,” he said. “We wanted to win this to ease the sorrow everybody has been feeling. We want to give them a break from that by keeping them occupied with the championship run.”

Fellow Warrior Tanner echoed Moran in many of his feelings about the winning the State C Tournament championship.

“This championship means everything to me. This is the second best thing to happen to me after being born. When I was a little kid I knew this was what I wanted to do and worked hard through the years to get this championship. We started the season knowing this was the very last chance we (Tanner, Moran and Malatare) had to do this as teammates. We have been scrapping, fighting and pushing on the court since we were three years old and we wanted to go out with a bang,” Tanner said, adding that beyond the personal feeling of accomplishment, he felt the Jocko Valley community also felt that they too were an important part of the team and the championship season. “We won this for the community too. This means a lot to Arlee and to the reservation.”

The Warriors acknowledge their fans after the trophy presentation Saturday night in the Brick Breeden Field House. (B.L. Azure photo) The Warriors acknowledge their fans after the trophy presentation Saturday night in the Brick Breeden Field House. (B.L. Azure photo)

Tanner predicted the Warriors would be back in the thick of the state championship mix next season. “They will do this again next year,” he said.

Part of that returning crew is junior wingman Will Mesteth, the shadow-ditching quick game changer on both sides of the ball. His off-court celebratory demeanor was the mellow opposite of his frantic, helter skelter but smooth on-court presence.

“This feels good. I couldn’t be happier. We played our style, knocked down our shots and got the job done,” Mesteth said calmly. “The seniors definitely deserved this victory and we worked hard to get it for them. We started the season with that goal. I couldn’t be happier for them. I thank them for their guidance during this amazing season. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. I want to thank the fans too. Our Arlee fans, our reservation fans are the best.”

Those best fans were waiting for their triumphant basketball heroes Sunday when they arrived back in Arlee and welcomed them home with cheers and hugs. And if Tyler Tanner’s prediction comes true they’ll be there again next year with open arms chanting “Arlee…Warriors…Arlee…Warriors…Arlee…Warriors!”

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