Warriors retain title as team to beat in Native American Classic

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  • ARLEE WARRIORS guard Phillip Malatare drives to the basket in Saturday night’s contest against Harlem. (Bob Gunderson/Special to the Lake County Leader)

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    ARLEE GUARD Greg Whitesell drives to the basket in the Warriors' first game of the Native American Classic against Rocky Boy Friday night at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (Jason Blasco/Lake County Leader)

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    ARLEE GUARD Will Mesteth drives to the lane during Friday night’s contest against Rocky Boy in the Warriors’ first game of the Native American Classic at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (photo courtesy of Bob Gunderson)

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    ARLEE GUARD Lane Schall shoots over a Rocky Boy defender at the Native American Classic Friday night at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (Jason Blasco/Lake County Leader)

  • ARLEE WARRIORS guard Phillip Malatare drives to the basket in Saturday night’s contest against Harlem. (Bob Gunderson/Special to the Lake County Leader)

  • 1

    ARLEE GUARD Greg Whitesell drives to the basket in the Warriors' first game of the Native American Classic against Rocky Boy Friday night at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (Jason Blasco/Lake County Leader)

  • 2

    ARLEE GUARD Will Mesteth drives to the lane during Friday night’s contest against Rocky Boy in the Warriors’ first game of the Native American Classic at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (photo courtesy of Bob Gunderson)

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    ARLEE GUARD Lane Schall shoots over a Rocky Boy defender at the Native American Classic Friday night at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (Jason Blasco/Lake County Leader)

Arlee High School boys basketball coach Zanen Pitts knows it’s advantageous to never be complacent about his team’s performances and he now has the accolades to validate his philosophies.

The Warriors, who are coming off their most historical season in school history after they defeated Manhattan Christian to capture the Class C state basketball title, won both of their games against Rocky Boy and Harlem to begin their 2017-2018 campaign with two quality victories Thursday through Saturday at the Native American Classic at Joe McDonald Gymnasium at Salish Kootenai College.

“We played some hard defense and did pretty well on the boards,” Pitts said. “Our guys were able to get after it with rebounding and defense. I was really pleased when we were able to move the ball around and there were moments where I was thinking ‘that is what I was looking for.’”

At the beginning of the season, Pitts also said he knows his team is still getting accustomed to the game flow of the regular season.

“We also had moments that our team looked erratic and lacked discipline, but he said he is “confident” they will improve.

“These were pretty hyped up games and there is a lot of emotions going into games like that,” Pitts said.

The Warriors played against two of the top-caliber teams that Class 1B has to offer: Rocky Boy and Harlem, and won both of the contests.

“Playing against Rocky Boy was a good test because that is a state-caliber team and they are pretty tough (in Class B) coming out of the north division,” Pitts said. “I felt like playing against Harlem, they were a lot better of a team than they initially showed.”

The Warriors played up to Pitts’ expectations and some of their execution flaws Pitts said he anticipates will be corrected as they move forward with the season.

“(The first couple of games) were what I expected they would be,” Pitts said. “I expected breakdowns on plays and fumbled balls and different things like that. I also thought that we received awesome play from the bench.”

Last year, Pitts was never complacent and always focused on areas his team could improve. It paid dividends with his team’s first-ever Class C state championship. This year, the Warriors will be focused on making it to the third consecutive state championship appearance.

“(Against Rocky Boy), we almost threw the game away and didn’t execute here,” Pitts said. “We had a behind-the-back pass because they knew they could get away with it and any second we could have thrown the wrong (proverbial) punch and we could have gotten beat.”

The Warriors now travel to play Seeley Lake Thursday night and will play their season-opening conference game Saturday night against Hot Springs at Hot Springs High School.

Last season the Warriors lost only one conference game to then No. 1 ranked Plains in December.

The Warriors avenged their loss to Plains and defeated them at home last Jan. 27 to become the No. 1 ranked team in the state of Montana for Class C.

Arlee never reliquonshed that rank or lost another game en route to capturing the Class C championship.

The Warriors hope to sustain momentum against Seeley Lake Thursday night at Seeley Lake and will travel to Hot Springs Saturday night.

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