Flathead Reservation/Lake County teams battle at the State A Tournament but come up short of the championship

GREAT FALLS — Every year when the sun begins to head south, basketballs begin to bounce in the gymnasiums across Montana. Every coach, every player and every fan of their teams all have the same dream: a trip to the state tournament in pursuit of the championship trophy. That dream dissipates a bit as the season wears on as the cream of the teams begins to rise to the top of the standings. This year’s competition has been unlike any other in the history of the sport due to the pandemic and its effect on team’s health and schedule. It came on the heels of last years shortened state tournaments that were all ended the day prior to the championship games due to concerns about COVID-19.

Despite all that, the games went on as best they could with some cancellations and some rescheduling, and most games without fans in the stands. This year will never be forgotten due to all those circumstances. 

It will also never be forgotten by those teams who overcame the obstacles presented them by opposing teams and the pandemic to make it to the state tournaments in their classifications. In Class A, three teams from the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County made it the State A Tournament last week. 

The Polson Pirates and the Ronan Chiefs made it to the eight team Class A boys’ tournament field, that included Dillon, Butte Central, Laurel, Hardin, Billings Central and Lewistown. Billings Central defeated Dillon 49-39 to earn the championship trophy.

The Ronan Maidens did the same in the eight team Class A girls’ tournament, that included Hamilton, Havre, Columbia Falls, Glendive, Hardin, Billings Central and Whitefish. Havre won the championship in a double overtime thriller 64-60 against Billings Central to earn its third state championship in the last four years.

The Chiefs opened the tournament against the Laurel Locomotives but came up on the short end of the 62-44 score. It would not be the last time the teams faced off in the tournament. The loss sent the Chiefs to the consolation bracket loser out game against the Hardin Indians. The Chiefs played the perennial Southeast Division power tough and came out on top 50-46 score. 

The win assured the Chiefs of further life in the consolation championship trophy chase with a game against Rez Rival Polson Pirates, who placed second in the Western Division Tournament and had been ranked second in the state at times throughout the regular season. And the outcome was as close as games can be as the Chiefs knocked the Pirates out of the tourney with a 38-37 victory. 

The victory over Polson set up a rematch against the Laurel Locomotives in the consolation championship game. The Chiefs and the Locomotives could not shake the other in the first half and Laurel held a 26-25 lead at the half. However, they came out of the lockers going full steam ahead outscoring the Chiefs 15-5 to go up 41-30 at the end of the third quarter. The Chiefs chipped away at the deficit to pull within four with less than two minutes play but just couldn’t get over the hump and lost the game 56-49. 

The Pirates opened the tournament with take-no-prisoners 69-55 victory over the Lewistown Eagles. The victory earned the Pirates a semifinal game against the eventual champion Billings Central Rams. The Pirates were on top of their game in the duke it out first half and took a 28-26 lead into the lockers at the half. However, the Rams came out of the lockers snorting and went on a 20-7 run to go-up 46-35 after three quarters. That explosive quarter would prove to be the difference in the game. The Pirates were able to chip a deuce off the 11-point lead with the 14-12 fourth quarter output and went down 58-49. The loss sent the Pirates in a loser out game against Ronan. The Chiefs won the close game 38-37 and it was the battle of the boards that accounted for the Chiefs victory as they outrebounded the Pirates 41-26.

The Ronan Maidens opened the tourney with against the Lady Indians of Hardin who topped the Maidens 66-38. The loss sent the Maidens into the consolation championship bracket against Northwest Division rival, the Whitefish Lady Bulldogs. After a close first quarter that ended with Whitefish up a deuce (14-12), the Lady Bulldogs went on an 18-10 run to go up 32-22 lead. It was a spread that the Maidens could only dent with a 27-24 second half output that accounted for the 56-49 Lady Bulldogs victory that ended the Maidens season of hoops competition.

Now it’s wait-till-next-year for all the Class A teams. However, the dreams are still alive for boys’ and girls’ teams that will compete in this weekend’s Class AA, B and C tournaments. However, there aren’t any Flathead Reservation teams in those tourneys.

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