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State AA boys: Golden Bears’ surge turns away Wolfpack

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | March 10, 2023 7:40 PM

BUTTE — What should have happened, the Glacier Wolfpack figured, is that their back-and-forth game with Billings West would turn their favor with some late, timely shooting.

Instead it was Billings West backup forward Hunter Saks who stepped up, bombing in a pair of threes in a 12-0 burst Friday, in the semifinals of the State AA boys basketball tournament.

Up 40-30 late in the third quarter, the Bears (19-4) held off the Wolfpack for a 52-43 win at the Butte Civic Center. They’ll take on Missoula Hellgate for the state championship Saturday around 8 p.m.

Hellgate (19-4) built a late lead to down Bozeman 56-49 in the second semifinal.

Glacier, 15-8, fell into a 9 a.m. loser-out game against Gallatin.

“Tomorrow is the toughest game, I think,” said Glacier coach Mark Harkins. “To come from where we were at, to play in. We’re disappointed now, but we’ve got to let that go and come back and try and get third.”

West 52, Glacier 43

The game turned right after Ty Olsen rebounded a Golden Bear miss and drove coast-to-coast for a layup and a 32-30 Wolfpack lead at 3:56 of the third quarter.

Saks then sized up a three on West’s next possession, and drilled it for the 13th lead change of the game. The Bears, up 33-32, wouldn’t give it back.

A steal and layup from Ben Erbacher followed, then Teagan Balfanz hit an inside leader before Saks — who hit seven 3-pointers during the regular season — buried another trey.

Capping the run was Cooper Tyson, who made a steal and threw down a dunk for a 40-30 West lead with 12 seconds left in the quarter.

Glacier missed six straight shots in that span, before Xavier Stout drew a foul and hit two surge-ending free throws. This was after a first half in which the Pack turned the ball over 12 times but hung in thanks to 11 points from Cohen Kastelitz and threes from Adam Nikunen, Olsen and Kaidrian Buls.

While they took care of the ball from there and got a combined 22 rebounds from Kastelitz and Noah Dowler — “They were amazing on the boards,” Harkins said — the Pack shot just 26 percent, 5 of 19.

“They hit some shots, and we didn’t. But I thought, shoot, it was a battle,” Harkins said. “We knew they were good, we knew they were physical, we knew they’d pressure us. The first half we turned it over a lot, and the second half I thought we handled their pressure a lot better.

We just started missing some shots.

“Whether we rushed it a little bit I don’t know, but the kids battled the whole time.”

The Pack got another three from Nikunen and two Buls free throws to open the fourth quarter to trail just 40-37. But after that — while the Bears were sinking 10 of 12 free throws — the Pack just couldn’t dial it in.

“That’s basketball,” Harkins said. “You hit shots, you miss shots. West is a good basketball team, and much credit to them, but I was proud of the way our kids played.”

Kastelitz finished with 14 points and Nikunen had 10. Dowler pulled down 13 rebounds.

Tyson had a game-high 19 for West, including two 3-pointers.

Glacier 14 9 9 11 - 43

West 16 9 15 12 - 52

GLACIER — Cohen Kastelitz 6-12 2-5 14, Noah Dowler 0-5 4-4 4, Adam Nikunen 3-8 2-4 10, Kaidrian Buls 2-5 2-2 7, Ty Olsen 2-6 0-0 5, Tyler McDonald 0-1 0-0 0, Xavier Stout 0-1 2-2 2, Jeff Lillard 0-1 0-0 0, Carson Gulick 0-0, Wyatt Cox 0-0 1-2 1, Travys Agan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-39 13-19 43.

BILLINGS WEST — Billy Carlson 2-6 6-6 10, Mitchell Fogelsong 1-4 0-0 2, Ben Erbacher 1-4 2-4 4, AJ Moser 1-2 0-0 2, Cooper Tyson 8-16 1-1 19, Teagan Balfanz 2-4 3-5 7, Drew McDowell 0-0 0-0 0, Hunter Saks 3-3 0-0 8. Totals 18-39 12-16 52.

3-point goals — Glacier 4-12 (Nikunen 2-4, Olsen 1-2, Bulls 1-3, Kastelitz 0-2, Lillard 0-1), West 4-11 (Saks 2-2, Tyson 2-5, Erbacher 0-1, Fogelsong 0-1, Belfanz 0-2). Rebounds — Glacier 33 (Dowler 13, Kastelitz 9), West 21 (Carlson 6). Fouls — glacier 17, West 13. Fouled out — Kastelitz, Nikunen. Blocks — Glacier 1 (Dowler), West 3 (3 with 1). Steals — Glacier 8 (Olsen 2, Bulls 2, Dowler 2), West 8 (Erbacher 3). Turnovers — Glacier 17, West 13.

Hellgate 56, Bozeman 49

Hellgate led for all but a few seconds of the semifinal, but the Knights couldn’t shake the Hawks until Easton Sant and Asher Topp each hit two free throws in the final 26 seconds.

Bozeman led 37-36 on a steal and layup by Kellen Harrison midway through the third quarter. Hellgate retook the lead and then went up 41-37 on a Chance McNulty 3-pointer. Then the Knights scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter — McNulty and Connor Dick sandwiched baskets around a three and a steal by Sant — to lead 48-39.

Then it was a matter of holding off Bozeman (19-4), which had 16 points from Harrison and 15 from Luke Smith. Smith’s basket with 32 seconds left cut the gap to 52-49; it was off his 14th rebound.

Sant had a game-high 17 points, white Donovyn Headswift worked the inside for 14. Dick had 13 points and nine rebounds.

Neither the Knights nor Hawks made last year’s state tournament.

Bozeman 8 14 16 10 - 49

Hellgate 13 13 15 15 - 56

BOZEMAN — Jake Casagranda 4-7 0-0 8, Luke Smith 6-10 3-4 15, Rocky Leniconi 3-6 0-2 6, Kash Embry 1-7 0-0 2, Kellen Harrison 5-15 3-3 16, Chapman Wiehardt 0-2 0-0 0, Quaid Ash 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 20-52 6-9 49.

MISSOULA HELLGATE — Connor Dick 5-10 3-5 13, Mario Roseman 2-3 0-0 4, Donovyn Headsift 7-11 0-0 14, Easton Sant 5-10 3-4 17, Asher Topp 1-5 2-2 5, Leo Filardi 0-0 0-0 0, Chance McNulty 1-5 0-1 3, Cuinn Powers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-44 8-12 56.

3-point goals — Bozeman 3-18 (Harrison 3-10, Leniconi 0-1, Embry 0-2, Wiehardt 0-2, Ash 0-3), Hellgate 6-15 (Sant 4-5, Topp 1-3, McNulty 1-5, Rosemond 0-1, Headswift 0-1). Rebounds — Bozeman 30 (Smith 14), Hellgate 28 (Dick 9). Fouls — Bozeman 16, Hellgate 12. Blocks — none. Steals — Bozeman 8 (Embry 4), Hellgate 6 (McNulty 3). Turnovers — Bozeman 12, Hellgate 13.

Gallatin 85, Butte 77

Eli Hunter had another huge game for Gallatin (15-9), pouring in 31 points to go with eight rebounds.

Zad Rodarte added 20 points and Garrett Dahlke 10 for the Raptors, who also got 12 points and 11 rebounds from reserve Kale Fasting.

For all that Butte led 62-51 after three quarters only to give up 34 points in the fourth.

Cameron Gurnsey had 26 points and Jace Stenson 14 for the Bulldogs (12-12). Hudson Leudtke added 19 off the bench, in a game that featured 64 free throws (Hunter made 6 of 13).

Skyview 64, Big Sky 57

Lane Love had 21 points, Rhyse Owens added 18 to help the Falcons (14-10) stay alive. Anthony Schacht chipped in with nine points and seven rebounds.

Josiah Cuaresma scored 15 points for the Eagles (10-14), who trailed 50-39 going to the fourth quarter. Aiden Beard added 13 points and nine rebounds and Carson Towe hit four 3-pointers for 12 points.

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