Warriors denied third straight state title by Eagles

Arlee tops duo of unbeatens, can’t get trifecta over Manhattan Christian

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  • ARLEE EARNED second place at the Class C State Tournament last week in Billings. Pictured, from left, are head coach Zanen Pitts, Zach RunningCrane, David Haynes, Cody Tanner, Nate Coulson, Dar Bolen, Levi Fullerton, Lane Schall, Lane Johnson, Isaac Fisher, Chase Gardner, Greg Whitesell, assistant coach Francis Brown, Donovan Hanken, Deon Red Cloud, Trey Tewawina, Billy Fisher, Troy Tewawina and Hunter Brown. Kids in front are, from left, Zanen Pitts Jr., Robert Brown, Rapoe Brown and JaVen Pitts. (Bob Gunderson photos/Lake County Leader)

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    ARLEE WARRIOR fans had a lot of cheer about during the 2018-19 season. The Warriors knocked off previously unbeaten Scobey and Chinook en route to the Class C state title game. Arlee finished second.

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    ISSAC FISHER, a 6-foot-9 senior, was a key element for Arlee during the 2018-19 season. He and his teammates earned second place in the Class C State Basketball Tournament. Fisher was named to the all-state team.

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  • ARLEE EARNED second place at the Class C State Tournament last week in Billings. Pictured, from left, are head coach Zanen Pitts, Zach RunningCrane, David Haynes, Cody Tanner, Nate Coulson, Dar Bolen, Levi Fullerton, Lane Schall, Lane Johnson, Isaac Fisher, Chase Gardner, Greg Whitesell, assistant coach Francis Brown, Donovan Hanken, Deon Red Cloud, Trey Tewawina, Billy Fisher, Troy Tewawina and Hunter Brown. Kids in front are, from left, Zanen Pitts Jr., Robert Brown, Rapoe Brown and JaVen Pitts. (Bob Gunderson photos/Lake County Leader)

  • 1

    ARLEE WARRIOR fans had a lot of cheer about during the 2018-19 season. The Warriors knocked off previously unbeaten Scobey and Chinook en route to the Class C state title game. Arlee finished second.

  • 2

    ISSAC FISHER, a 6-foot-9 senior, was a key element for Arlee during the 2018-19 season. He and his teammates earned second place in the Class C State Basketball Tournament. Fisher was named to the all-state team.

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Last weekend at MetraPark Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, the Arlee Warriors would embark upon an ambitious quest to defend their two-time state C titles. Hurdles in their path included a trio of top-seeded undefeated teams among a formidable field. This would be Arlee’s fifth straight state C tournament appearance, and eighth over the past decade.

State C quarterfinal

Arlee decodes SoS,

scuttles Scobey

Last Thursday, the Arlee Warriors would open their segment of tournament play against the undefeated Eastern top-seed Spartans of Scobey. The Warriors jumped out to a 5-0 lead at the start, but Scobey erased the advantage with a 7-0 run. There would be a pair of ties at seven and 11 before Scobey took a deuce advantage at the end of the first frame.

Arlee would catch Scobey when Cody Tanner was fouled on a drive to tie at 24 apiece, his one-and-one edging his team ahead, 25-24. Warrior Levi Fullerton would expand the margin to three with a deuce, but Spartan Jayce Tande would tie with a three at 27 apiece. Warrior Isaac Fisher would net a basket to give Arlee a two-point edge at intermission.

Scobey would inexplicably come out flat to start the third period. The Warriors didn’t intend to hand out any “kid glove” treatment, stepping on the gas pedal to sent them on a 9-0 run. A conventional three-point play of deuce and-one by Isaac Fisher would extend the margin into double figures, 39-28.

Scobey would counter with a couple of scoring drives, but that would be followed by a four-point play by Greg Whitesell, netting his bonus to extend the lead back to 11, 43-32.

The Spartans would pare down the deficit to within two possessions after a triple by Aidan Fishell narrowed the margin to 62-57. Whitesell would close out Arlee scoring with the back end of a set of free throws.

Arlee would sidestep the previously undefeated Spartans to advance to a semifinal showdown.

State C Semifinal

Warriors take wind out of Chinook, best Beeters

This past Friday at MetraPark, the Warriors would face their second undefeated foe in as many days in the Northern top-seed Sugarbeeters of Chinook. One influential factor behind the success of the Sugarbeeters this season has to do with a sizeable height advantage over other Class C competition, reflected by a roster that features senior forwards 6-4 Cord Schneider, 6-4 Isaac Bell, 6-5 Brendan Edwards and 6-6 sophomore forward Reese Elliott.

Arlee head coach Zanen Pitts touched upon the strategy that the Warriors employed in the Scobey game that would carry over into their approach to Chinook, “We wanted to make them play our game, to take the fight to them,” he said.

During the first frame, the Warriors started out strong, scoring first, then expanding their lead to five by the end of the quarter. The margin would mushroom to an 11-4 advantage, precipitating a Chinook timeout by the Sugarbeeter coach to hit the reboot button on their offense. Greg Whitesell, Lane Johnson and Isaac Fisher accounted for all of Arlee’s points the first eight minutes in descending sequence, with Whitesell leading the way with a half dozen. Lane Schall would dish a pair of strategic assists during the period.

Arlee expanded upon the margin over the course of the second period by extending their lead into double figures. Darshan Bolen splashed a triple to make it 22-12. After a set of free throws from Sugarbeeter Trajan Hannum, Warrior Zach RunningCrane countered with a tip-in of a missed shot to reacquire the margin, 24-14. Both teams would counter the other during a handful of sequences until Warrior Johnson dished an assist to an open Whitesell, who splashed a triple to extend the lead to its widest margin of eleven prior to intermission. Johnson contributed a trio of assists during the course of that second quarter that were instrumental in offsetting the trio of deuces scored by Sugarbeeter Cord Schneider, who led Chinook with 14 prior by the juncture of intermission.

After halftime, Chinook started to chip away at the Arlee’s lead. A basket by Sugarbeeter Reese Elliott would pull Chinook within a single possession, 36-34. Elliott would make a trio of trips to the charity stripe during the course of the third period that could have pulled his team even, but the ball only found net on half his attempts.

With Chinook trailing by two prior to the end of the period, a sloppy Arlee inbound pass at the Sugarbeeter end of the floor would be intercepted by Hunter Niebauer, who lofted a floater within the paint into the basket just prior to the buzzer sounding to net the equalizer at 43-all.

Even-steven with eight minutes remaining to decide which way the hinge on the door would swing in a tight contest between undefeated Chinook and two-time defending champion Arlee.

As if sensing the need to quelch the shift in momentum of the game, Warrior Johnson started Arlee off in the right direction by turning a conventional three-point play of deuce “and-one” to reacquire the edge, 46-43. Warrior Whitesell would add a tandem of deuces to extend the lead to seven for some breathing room, 50-43. Thereafter, Arlee would go on a 14-3 run, much to the chagrin of Sugarbeeters adherents.

Undefeated Chinook had never been in this sort of situation during the course of the season. They would respond by tightening up their defense in an effort to squeeze Arlee while continuing to attack the basket at their end of the floor as a means to climb back into contention. Their first break would come when Arlee post Isaac Fisher would foul out just before the midway point of the final frame. Then Johnson and Whitesell would pick up their fourth fouls.

Thereafter, Sugarbeeter Brendan Edwards would get a steal, then score to pull Chinook within a single possession, 61-58, with 1:46 remaining. A pair of Johnson free throws would be countered in similar manner by Sugarbeeter Schneider, 63-60, with 1:20 remaining.

A strategic seam in the contest would take place when Warrior Cody Tanner was fouled and went to the line for a pair of free throws that would be missed. Chinook was unable to corral the rebound after the second attempt on account of Zach RunningCrane adeptly anticipating its trajectory for an intercept. The ball would be rerouted to Tanner, who would be fouled again, but this time would net his second set of free throws for a two possession advantage, 65-60, with under a minute remaining.

The remainder of the scoring would be decided at the charity stripe. Veteran Warriors Johnson and Whitesell would go 7--for-8 down the stretch from the free-throw line, Johnson netting a set with Whitesell twining the rest.

The end result would be the fourth time in a row that Arlee would advance to the championship game.

State C championship

Warriors unable to keep pace with Eagles

Last Saturday at MetraPark, the Manhattan Christian Eagles and the Arlee Warriors would square off for their third state title tilt matchup in as many years. This would be the ninth postseason encounter (divisional, state) between both clubs over the course of the past five seasons.

The Warriors initially appeared to be in game mode early, Greg Whitesell and Lane Johnson scoring the first pair of baskets to stake Arlee to a 4-0 lead.

The Eagle responded in kind with Montana State recruit 6-6 Caleb Bellach netting the first basket for Manhattan Christian, followed by a triple from Josiah Amunrud and just as quickly it would be 5-4. The game initially looked to be shaping up to a back-and-forth, down to the wire affair.

But miscommunication, turnovers, and empty trips would be countered by an Eagle deuce, followed by another three by Amunrud to push their advantage to a half dozen, 10-4, preciptating an Arlee timeout by head coach Pitts in an effort to refocus the Warriors on the task at hand.

Warrior Whitesell would score two coming off the timeout to trim the deficit, but a dual set of free throws by Eagle Bellach extended the lead to 10 at that juncture, 16-6. The first frame would close in favor of Manhattan Christian, 19-11.

Early in the second quarter, Whitesell would net a deuce to close the gap to within a single possession, 16-19, at the 6:50 juncture.

But thereafter, Eagle Amunrud would convert two free throws from a one-and-one opportunity and Bellach would net a conventional three point play of deuce ‘and-one’ to reacquire the Manhattan Christian lead, 24-16. Warrior Whitesell would splash a triple to close back within five, 24-19, but then deuces by Eagles Bellach and David Aamot would sandwich a set of free throws by Caidin Hill, extending Manhattan Christian’s lead back out into double figures, 30-19.

Billy Fisher would dial the operator long distance from beyond the arc and complete the call for a three to pull the Warriors within three possessions, 30-22. But the Eagles would respond either from the field or from the charity stripe to reacquire, then extend their margin. Arlee would trail Manhattan Christian by mid-teens at intermission.

Thereafter, the remainder of the contest could be distilled into a contrast between Manhattan Christian recouping lucrative returns on its investments, while Arlee deposits at their end of the floor were more sporadic. Multiple shots that were finding net for the Warriors in the previous two games were coming up short or clanking off the rim with the Eagles denying second chance opportunities with its defensive rebounding.

Part of Warrior conversion difficulties stemmed from defensive pressure forcing alterations upon the trajectory of their shots. Another aspect would trace to a less of optimal synchronicity that was more evident during the course of their preceding contests.

Foul trouble played an influential role in Arlee being limited in how well they could defend against the Manhattan Christian inside game. RunningCrane, Johnson and eventually Whitesell would all foul out of the contest. According to the Metra sideline data, Manhattan Christian netted 30 points in the paint in contrast to 16 by Arlee. By contrast, Arlee held a 34-20 advantage in its opener against Scobey, while a Chinoook-Arlee 30-28 differential was relatively even during the semifinal.

Perhaps the biggest factor that emerges is the contrast that can be painted between the performance of key players on both teams. On one side, the 42 scored by Manhattan Christian’s Bellach was not only a tournament high, but also a new varsity career high for the Montana State recruit. Arlee coach Pitts said of Bellach, “He was in beast-mode. He’s big, athletic and can shoot over the top of a lot of defenders. Once we got into foul trouble, it made it really tough to body him up. He was dialed in, balled out.”

On the other side, some key Warrior contributors tallied among their lowest outputs of the season.

Warrior Whitesell’s 18 and Eagle Amunrud’s 20 statistically almost canceled each other out, which left the remainder of the Warriors to make inroads that would offset Bellach’s ballistic bounty.

Such a combination of factors tend to compound the difficulty level of trying to pull off a feat of such monumental significance like a three-peat. Added to the difficulty level was the trajectory of the Warrior quest which would call for them to triumph over a trio of previously undefeated teams.

Dispatching two previously undefeated teams along the way merits being viewed as an accomplishment worthy of celebration in its own right irrespective of the outcome of the tilt for the title. Pitts conceded, “We had too many breakdowns for a game at this level to give ourselves a legitimate chance to prevail.”

To further frame the accomplishments of this postseason state finale in context, this would be the fourth time in as many seasons that Arlee advanced to the state C championship. Four consecutive championship appearances have occurred among other classifications, but among the Class C ranks was unprecedented. “No one has ever done it,” Pitts pointed out.

The second-place finish culminates the prep career of seven seasoned seniors that include Greg Whitesell, Lane Johnson, Isaac Fisher, Darshan Bolen, Lane Schall, Nate Coulson and Chase Gardner. Six of the seven were part of the squad in varying capacities that made the championship four seasons ago as freshmen, Whitesell being the only one to see floor time against Box Elder. The cumulative record over the course of those four seasons is *99-6.

Pitts commented, “The loss stings, but only so much. There are a lot bigger things in life that await than take place on a basketball court.

“The worst part is when you lose seniors you’ve mentored for four years,” Pitts said. “It’s the end of a ride for a group that have become like part of your family. It’s very emotional. But it’s been a special run.”

Arlee will transition to the Class B ranks next season. To wrap up its tenure at the Class C level with four straight trips to the title tilt should serve notice that they will likely be a force to be reckoned when schedules are reconfigured to accommodate them for seasons to come.

Asterisk(*): 2016-17 Arlee (25-1) record does not include St.Regis forfeit nor HellgateJV exhibition fillin win.

2019 State C Boys Basketball Tournament

MetraPark Rimrock Auto Center

Billings, MT

Th.-Sat., March 7-9

State C championship

Manhattan Christian 83, Arlee 51

Cody Tanner crested the double century (200) point plateau for season scoring, while Billy Fisher crested the century (100) point plateau for season scoring. .

(2W) 14C Arlee (24-3), (1W) 11C Manhattan Christian (26-0)

Arlee Warriors 11 18 9 13 – 51

Manhattan Christian 19 26 19 19 – 83

ARLEE – Greg Whitesell 7 2-3 18(*4r,5a,4s,1b), Cody Tanner 4 0-0 10(1r,2a), Lane Johnson 2 2-2 6(*3r,1a), Billy Fisher 6(*1r), Darshan Bolen 1 2-2 5(*4r,2a,1s,1b), Levi Fullerton 2(1r,1s), Lane Schall 2(1r), Isaac Fisher 2(*7r,1s), Zach RunningCrane (1r), David Haynes (2r), Nate Coulson (1r), Chase Gardner.

MANHATTAN CHRISTIAN – Caleb Bellach 12 17-18 42(9r), Josiah Amunrud 20, Sam Leep 8, Caidin Hill 5, David Aamot 4, Tyler Kamps 3, Matthew Kenney 1, noID(6r), tmMC(38r,12a,8s,1b) 23-45 32-40 83.

3FGs – A 7-24 (B.Fisher 2-5, C.Tanner 2-6, Whitesell 2-7, Bolen 1-3), MC 5-14 (Amunrud 4-6, Bellach 1-4). (Sa09Mar19gm12st)

Asterisk (*) denotes stat variant(s) where sideline specs differ from venue/media coverage:

MPRACvenue: Whitesell (4r4a3s0b), Tanner (1r1a1s), Johnson (2r1a), B.Fisher (1r1a), Bolen (3r3a1s0b), Fullerton (1r0s1b), Schall (1r), I.Fisher 2(5r1s).

MaxPreps: Bolen (4r2a0s1b), Schall (0r), I.Fisher (5r1s)

State C semifinal

Arlee 72, Chinook 61

Darshan Bolen crested the century (100) point plateau for season scoring.

(2W) 14C Arlee (24-2), (1N) 9C Chinook (25-1)

Arlee 15 18 10 29 – 72

Chinook 10 14 19 18 – 61

CHINOOK – Cord Schneider 12 5-7 29, Brendon Edwards 4 1-2 9, Reese Elliot 2 3-6 7, Isaac Bell 2 0-0 5, Trajan Hannum 0 5-5 5, Hunter Neibauer 4, Riley Kellam 2, tmC(24r,8a,6s,1b) 22-47 16-25 61.

ARLEE – Greg Whitesell 10 8-10 29(*4r,2a,4s), Lane Johnson 1 11-13 16(*3r,6a,1s), Isaac Fisher 6 2-2 14(6r,1s,2b), Zach RunningCrane 3 0-0 6(*6r,1a,1b), Darshan Bolen 2 0-0 5(*1r,2a), Cody Tanner 2(3r), Lane Schall (2a,1s), Billy Fisher, Levi Fullerton, David Haynes, Chase Gardner, Nate Coulson.

3FGs – C 1-4 (I.Bell 1-2), A 3-5 (Bolen 1-1, Johnson 1-2,Whitesell 1-2). (Fr08Mar19gm7st)

Asterisk (*) denotes stat variant(s) where sideline specs differ from venue/media coverage:

MPRACvenue: Whitesell (4r,1a,3s), Johnson (3r,5a,1s), RunningCrane (5r,1a,1b), Bolen (1r,1a),

State C quarterfinal

Arlee 63, Scobey 57

(2W) 14C Arlee (23-2), (1E) 3C Scobey (23-1)

Scobey 13 14 8 22 – 57

Arlee 11 18 14 20 – 63

SCOBEY – Aidan Fishell 15, Caden Handran 8, Brayden Cromwell 8, Jeremy Handy 7, Martin Farver 7, Jayce Tande 6, Parker Cromwell 6, tmS(35r,5a,11s), 17-54, 18-27 57.

ARLEE – Greg Whitesell 5 11-13 23(4r,3a,3s), , Isaac Fisher 6 1-3 13(*11r,2s,2b), Cody Tanner 3 5-7 11(4r), Lane Johnson 2 4-5 8(3r,2a,2s), Zach RunningCrane 2 0-0 4(*1r,1s), Billy Fisher 2(*2r,1a), Levi Fullerton 2(3r), Darshan Bolen 0(5r,3a,1s), Lane Schall 0(2r,1a).

3FGs – S 5-19 (Aid.Fishell 2-5, Cromwell 2-6, Tande 1-4), A 2-9 (Whitesell 2-6). (Th07Mar19gm2st)

Asterisk (*) denotes stat variant(s) where sideline specs differ from venue/media coverage:

MPRACvenue: Whitesell (4r2a5s), I.Fisher (11r2s1b), C.Tanner (3r), Johnson (2r2s), RunningCrane (1r1s), B.Fisher (1r1s), Fullerton (1r), Bolen (5r3a1s), Schall (1r), noID(5r).

MaxP: I.Fisher (1s), RunningCrane (1a0s)

MPRAC = MetraPark Rimrock Auto Center, Billings

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