Warriors redeem an opening loss to Twin Bridges with a consolation-game victory to earn a spot in the challenge game, where they avenge last year’s loss to Shields Valley to advance to the state tournament
The story for the Warriors at the Western C Divisional Tournament was the same as last year, but this year they made sure to rewrite the ending — an ending that is still unfinished.
At the Maroon Activities Center in Butte last week, the Warriors followed an identical path from last year to a challenge game Monday night against Shields Valley, who ended their season last year with a 55-49 victory in the challenge game.
This time around, the Warriors jumped out to an early lead and shot nearly 60 percent in a 55-40 state-clinching victory, and will get to add another chapter to their story — A chapter that begins at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Billings MetraPark, when they take on Culbertson, the state’s third-ranked team who will enter the state tournament with a 23-1 record. Thursday’s game will be Arlee’s first game at the state tournament since 1991 and their first game at the state tournament as a Class C school.
While the Warriors followed the exact path to the challenge game — losing their first game and then beating the same opponent in the consolation game — and faced the same team in the challenge game, Arlee coach Clyde Tucker said his team failed to see the parallels in the two tournaments.
“I don’t think our guys gave it a thought. They just play. They just wanted to get to state and they knew they were good enough to get there,” Tucker said. “Our kids went down there determined to win. You could just tell by their demeanor in the locker room that they expected to win. They went down there on a mission.”
Last year, the Warriors trailed the Rebels 18-2 after the first quarter and had to fight an uphill battle the rest of the way. That wasn’t a problem this year. Riding the hot hand of point guard Jesse Pfau, who scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the first quarter, the Warriors went right at Shields Valley and their 6-foot-8 center Stryker Anderson, starting the game on a 9-0 run and taking a 17-10 lead into the second quarter.
“We came out shooting the ball really well and Jesse (Pfau) started the game hot and that seemed to get everybody going,” Tucker said, adding that Pfau challenged Anderson, shooting right over him.
With a seven-point lead after the first quarter, Arlee shot the ball too well to be caught. The Warriors went 22-for-38 (58 percent) from the field.
Kasey Bridgewater, the Warriors’ leading scorer at the tournament averaging 12.8 points a game, finished with 12 points, with six of his points coming from his 15th and 16th 3-pointers of the tournament. Kyle Felsman, who Tucker credits with taking over the team’s leadership duties after their opening loss to Twin Bridges, added 10 points.
The Warriors opened the tournament against Twin Bridges, and they weren’t ready for the defending state champion’s style of defense, falling to the Falcons 46-36 in a turnover-riddled game.
“They (the Falcons) were just relentless on the press. They’re a hard team to play against and I don’t think our team expected that,” Tucker said. “The second time they were ready for them,” he added.
John Sansavere led the Warriors with 11 points. He was the only Warrior to finish in double figures. Pfau added eight. Bridgewater finished with seven and Felsman had six.
Tucker said that there was no panic after the loss. They started last year’s tournament with a loss to Gardiner and came back to beat the Bruins in the consolation game. This year, to get the chance to play the Falcons again the Warriors would have to beat Seeley-Swan and Sheridan.
Against the Blackhawks Friday morning, the Warriors held Seeley-Swan to only 10 second-half points and ran away with a 58-31 victory.
The Warriors only led 25-21 at the break, after Felsman drained a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the first half. The Warrior senior scored all 12 of his points in the first half. In the second half, it was Bridgewater who took over the scoring duties. After being held off the scoreboard in the first half, Bridgewater connected on five 3-pointers in the second half to finish with a game-high 15 points. Two of Bridgewater’s treys came in the Warriors’ 8-0 run to start the second half to put the game away. The run was started by a put-back by Kody Morigeau, who finished with 12 points.
The Warriors never trailed Sheridan and breezed to a 58-39 victory to set up a rematch with Twin Bridges. After Arlee started the game on a 12-0 run, where four different Warriors scored, they were never really threatened by the Panthers – eight points was as close as the Sheridan would get.
Felsman led the Warriors with 14 points. Pfau added a dozen and Bridgewater finished with 11.
In the rematch with Twin Bridges Saturday night, the Warriors started off cold, only connecting on one of their first nine shots in the first quarter – a 3-pointer by Trae Burland at 1:14 to cut the Falcons’ lead to 5-3.
The Warriors started to warm up in the second quarter and scored five points in the final minute to take a 17-12 lead into the break. Bridgewater connected on four 3-pointers in the third quarter, with his final 3-pointer coming with 21 seconds left to give the Warriors a 32-23 lead to take into the final quarter.
The Warriors had pushed the lead to 41-30 with 4:33 left on a pair of Felsman free throws, when fueled by Warrior turnovers, the Falcons came storming back. Falcon Cody Pierson tied the game at 42 with 1:21 on a three-point play, which was started by a Warrior turnover. The Warriors committed three turnovers leading to seven points during the Falcons’ 12-1 run.
Felsman had a chance to give the Warriors the lead back with 1:19 to play, but missed on the front end of a one-and-one. After a Bridgewater block on the other end, Felsman got a chance at redemption with just under a minute to play. This time he made both his free throws to give the Warriors a 44-22 lead.
“Thank God, I got another shot ... There was no way I was missing those two,” a relieved Felsman said after the game.
Morigeau sealed the game for the Warriors with 3.9 seconds left, when he put back Pfau’s second missed free throw to give the Warriors the 46-42 victory.
“Sweet revenge, sweet revenge. That’s what we wanted, too. If we could have played anybody in the consolation match we wanted another shot at Twin,” Felsman said. “You know, it’s kind of a big thing to say you can beat the defending state champs too, so it’s a good feeling.”
“They are defending state champions ... they had a lot of pride and they were determined that they were going to win and that makes it tough,” Tucker said, explaining the tense moments at the end.
Twin Bridges 45, Arlee 36
Twin Bridges 10 13 11 11–45
Arlee 8 11 10 7–36
TWIN BRIDGES - Ethan Nordquist 2, Jake Schmidt 15, Robert Walsh 9, Tyler Lott 7, Paul Peterson 5, Cody Pierson 7.
ARLEE - Kasey Bridgewater 7, Kyle Felsman 6, Jesse Pfau 8, Trae Burland 2, John Sansavere 11, Kody Morigeau 2.
Arlee 58, Seeley-Swan 31
Arlee 11 14 10 23–58
Seeley-Swan 5 16 2 8–31
ARLEE - Kasey Bridgewater 15, Kyle Felsman 12, Thomas McClure 2, Jesse Pfau 5, Junior Sansavere 4, John Sansavere 7, Trevor Rubel 1, Kody Morigeau 12.
Arlee 58, Sheridan 39
Arlee 18 11 12 17–58
Sheridan 8 10 8 13–39
ARLEE - Kasey Bridgewater 11, Kyle Felsman 14, Jesse Pfau 12, John Sansavere 7, Kody Morigeau 9, Beau Couture 2, Junior Sansavere 3.
SHERIDAN - Mike Buyan 3, Josh Bodda 12, Casey Crippen 10, Mark Boyd 4, Kenneth Schandelmeier 2, Levi Broksle 5, Tyler Barry 1, Nathan Allhands 2.
Arlee 46, Twin Bridges 42,
Twin Bridges 5 7 11 19–42
Arlee 3 14 15 14–46
TWIN BRIDGES - Tanner Eggers 8, Ethan Nordquist 2, Jake Schmit 1, Robert Walsh 6, Tyler Lott 8, Paul Peterson 4, Cody Pierson 11.
ARLEE - Kasey Bridgewater 19, Kyle Felsman 10, Jesse Pfau 3, Trae Burland 3, John Sansavere 3, Kody Morigeau 8.5
Arlee 55, Shields Valley 40
Arlee 17 8 18 12–55
S. Valley 10 4 9 17–40
ARLEE - Kasey Bridgewater 12, Kyle Felsman 10, Jesse Pfau 16, John Sansavere 8, Kody Morigeau 7, Beau Couture 2, Trevor Rubel 1.
SHIELDS VALLEY - Michael Speck 4, Miles O’ Halloran 4, Stryker Anderson 18, Jared Sheele 2, Levi Sarrazin 3, Mike Gagen 3, Joseph Desch 6.