Arlee Warriors end stellar Class C run
By Rob Zolman / Valley Journal
BILLINGS – The Arlee Warriors basketball season ended Saturday evening in Billings as the defending back-to-back state champions fell to the Manhattan Christian Eagles 83-51 in the Class C Boys State Basketball Championship at the MetraPark’s Rimrock Auto Arena.
Although it may have been a tough loss for the Warriors, a quick check on social media shows a very supportive and proud community. “Hold your heads high,” one post said. “You continue to make us all proud to call Arlee our hometown.” The comments continued, “Stand proud. Four trips to state in the last four years is pretty darn awesome. Beating two undefeated teams this trip is impressive.” And another comment read: “Gentlemen, hold your head high. You had a great season and your community is very proud of you all.”
This year’s tournament marked the Warriors’ final Class C season. They will be competing at the Class B level starting next year. During their 11-year stint in Class C basketball, the Warriors won two state championships, finished as the state runner-up three times, placed third and fourth once, won four Western C Divisional titles and grabbed nine District 14C championships.
Arlee head coach Zanen Pitts has honed the Warriors into state title contenders each year since taking over the squad during the 2014 season. Under Pitts, the Warriors have made five consecutive state hoop playoff berths, four consecutive title game appearances, won two consecutive State Class C championships, won three consecutive Western C Divisional championships and won five consecutive District 14C championships.
During the last four seasons, the Warriors have amassed an amazing record of 102-6, putting Arlee on the proverbial state basketball map. As Arlee moves on to Class B, the Warriors will quite possibly go down as one of the best basketball teams in Class C history, and rightfully so.
The competition just to get to the state tournament this year was tough. Following a Divisional Western C title loss to Manhattan Christian in Butte three weekends ago, the Warriors eked out a one-point 52-51 challenge game win over the Twin Bridges Falcons to secure a state playoff bracket spot.
In the first round of action on Thursday, Arlee opened their fifth consecutive state tournament appearance with a competitive 63-57 win over previously undefeated Scobey Spartans. Arlee senior guard Greg Whitesell led all shooters with a game-high 23 points. Cody Tanner added 11 points, and Isaac Fisher booked a double-double by scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Facing yet another undefeated team during Friday evening’s semifinal game, the Warriors battled their way to their fourth consecutive state championship game with a decisive 71-62 win over the Chinook Sugarbeeters. Whitesell, for the second time during the tournament, paced all shooters with a game-high 29 points. Lane Johnson finished with 16 points, and Fisher added 14 more points.
On Saturday the championship game began. They found themselves facing their postseason rival Manhattan Christian who won on the flip side of the bracket. Arlee started the game with a 4-0 lead with opening baskets by Whitesell. Both teams spent the first few minutes of the quarter trading buckets before the Eagles went on a late first quarter 11-3 scoring run to take control of the game and the lead, 19-11.
The Warriors scored the first five points in the second quarter to cut the Eagles lead to 19-16 with nearly six minutes left to play in the second quarter, but Manhattan Christian ended the quarter on a 26-13 scoring run. The teams went into the locker room at halftime with the Eagles up 16-points, 45-29.
In the third quarter, Caleb Bellach and Josiah Amunrud lead the Eagles and extended the lead with a 64-38 score. Headed into the fourth quarter, Manhattan Christian’s defense continued to trouble the Warriors. The 26-point deficit was simply too much for the Warriors to overcome.
Manhattan Christian went on to grab the Class C state title 83-51. The Warriors had beaten the Eagles in each of the previous two championship games. Whitesell finished the game with 18 points and a spot on the all-tournament first team for his efforts, and Tanner scored 10 points.
Manhattan Christian Eagles 83
Arlee Warriors 51
Manhattan Christian 19 26 19 19 83
Arlee 11 18 9 13 51
Arlee – Greg Whitesell 18, Cody Tanner 10, Billy Fisher 6, Lane Johnson 6, Darshan Bolen 5, Lane Schall 2, Isaac Fisher 2
Levi Fullerton 2.
Manhattan Christian – Caleb Bellach 42, Josiah Amunrud 20, Sam Leep 8, Caidin Hill 5, David Aamot 4, Tyler Kamps 3,
Matthew Kenney 1.