Warriors’ final stand ends with optimistic future
BILLINGS — After a whirlwind season of outstanding performances, the Warriors took their third and final defeat with humbling pride as Arlee fell in the consolation round of Class C basketball State play, but not without giving each and every contest a heavy-handed fight until the end.
As the “sneaker” team at State, no one was prepared for the battle mode the Warriors would display on the big show hardwood, giving each opponent a run for their money.
Head Coach Zanen Pitts is nothing but impressed with his young team and knows the experience gained will further them in future seasons.
“We had a great scouting report as coaches. I felt extremely confident and it’s really encouraging to me to be able to sit here and have no regrets,” Pitts said. “I felt like we did everything we could, we prepared right and we executed our game plan.”
Round one on Thursday, proved victorious for the Warriors as they toasted Northern Cheyenne 62-57 in the State opener hosted in Billings.
After coming out of the first half, the Warriors had a healthy nine-point lead, enough to secure an opening game W and give Arlee advancement to the semifinals.
“The first half we definitely outplayed them but the second half we got a little sloppy and just kind of dropped our guard. We allowed them to get back into the game, but it was one of those games that we always knew we were in control.” Pitts said. “It was exciting. To get that monkey off our back, yeah, it was a good game.”
Warrior Tyler Tanner led Arlee on the court, coming away with a double-double after tossing in 20 points and grabbing 12 of the Warriors 43 rebounds. Patrick BigSam chipped in an additional 11 points.
Game two on Friday saw four Warriors scoring in the double digits but it wasn’t enough to earn Arlee a victory as they fell to undefeated Belt, 65-67.
While a disappointing halftime score left the Warriors with a six point deficit, a rallying second half brought the Warriors within two, scoring 13 in the final three minutes — but came a little too late in the semifinal contest.
BigSam scored a double-double for his team, netting 21 and picking 13 rebounds. Tanner added 16 points while Phillip Malatare came away with 13 and Bradley Brazill finished with 10.
Though the boys played hard, free throws proved to be a chip on the Arlee ball club’s shoulders, according to Pitts. He said the Warriors finished the tourney with only a high 30 percent average but added a two point loss was nothing to hang their heads about as Belt continued on to claim the State title.
“We shot 72 free throws and made roughly 30 so there’s not much you can do about that,” Pitts said. “We did everything, we shut them down defensively in certain areas, we outplayed them, but for the most part, we just beat ourselves.”
Saturday in the loser out consolation bracket game, the Warriors met Manhattan Christian, the team that gave the Warriors their first taste of loss and a second place finish at the Divisional tournament.
Though Arlee went into the locker room with a four point advantage, a troubling third frame proved to be the beginning of the end for them resulting in a heartbreaking 54-58 loss.
“(Manhattan Christian is a) good team,” Pitts said. “They’re good kids and well coached. We had a few ill-advised decision makings, which comes with a young team lacking experience, but we played harder than any team over there.”
BigSam once again high-scored the court, posting 20 points on the scoreboard for the Warriors. Tanner ended his final game with 10 and Justis Haynes was right behind with nine.
Pitts said the Warriors played the “the most exciting games to watch,” and because they played with so much fight and valor, fatigue got the most of the team but did not deter their passion.
The Warriors will finish their season with a 23-3 overall record with all three losses in the postseason and two of them at the hand of Manhattan Christian.
Though the Warriors will say good bye to four seniors, a powerful group of underclassman — including BigSam, Tanner, Haynes, Brazill, Isaac Desjarlais and freshman Phillip Malatare, who have gained much welcomed experience — may prove to be just as dominating next year.
“You got to take this and learn from this,” Pitts said. “Now we can’t say we’re the underdogs, because we’ve been there. Now it’s on them; we’ve got some big shoes to fill. It was a good ride. To make it a great ride we would have to have won it, but really, it was a good ride.”
Pitts would like to thank his “amazing” coaching staff, fans and the Arlee community for the support they have shown throughout the season.
Arlee 16 18 17 11 – 62
Northern Cheyenne 12 13 19 13 – 57
Complete individual scoring not reported.
Arlee 11 16 13 25 – 65
Belt 16 17 12 22 – 67
Patrick BigSam 21, Tyler Tanner 16, Phillip Malatare 13, Bradley Brazill 10, Justis Haynes 3, Chance Brazill 2.
Arlee 11 16 10 17 – 54
Manhattan Christian 11 12 16 19 – 58
Patrick BigSam 20, Tyler Tanner 10, Justis Haynes 9, Isaac Desjalais 5, Phillip Malatare 4, Bradley Brazill 4, PJ Haynes 2.