It was a head-on collision that was bound to happen.
And now it will.
The Anaconda and Whitehall high school boys’ basketball teams will clash for the second time this season but with a lot more at stake.
The teams will play during the morning session of the State Class B Tournament on Thursday at the MetraPlex in Billings.
Both teams took their own roller coaster rides to get to this point of the season and one will quash the state-championship dreams of the other.
Anaconda will arrive in Billings at the No. 1 team to come out of the western divisional while Whitehall scratched its way back from a Game 1 loss in the southern divisional to advance.
“I think we showed our grit,” Trojans coach Zach McLean said “Losing that first game was tough. We took the hard road but I thought our kids responded really well.”
Whitehall will need some of that grit if it hopes to bring home a trophy from Billings.
Anaconda had its share of adversity but seems to be playing its best basketball of the season. The Copperheads have won 10 of their last 11 games.
“We’ve been in some battles all the way through this season but we’ve gotten better,” Copperheads coach Bill Hill said. “We’ve got a degree of toughness about us.
“We’re not the most overly-talented team in certain areas but the kids have learned their roles.
Earlier in the year we had kids who thought they were scorers. They wanted to take shots when they shouldn’t shoot.”
One of those battles came on Jan. 17 when Anaconda and Whitehall first met. The Copperheads lost that contest by 18 points but were missing Hill and a couple of starters. Needless to say, neither coach is looking at that game as a precursor to Thursday’s.
“Absolutely not,” McLean said. “That was early in the season and we were both feeling each other out. It was a non-conference game and I’m sure they were trying different stuff.
“It’s unfortunate that they didn’t have those two guys and stuff but we’re just looking at them as the next opponent. We’re not looking at who they had the last time they played us. They’re the No. 1 team out of the west and that’s our next opponent.”
It seems like a sensible approach.
The Copperheads, as evidenced by their current run, don’t look anything like the team that played in January.
“We have been playing our best basketball,” Hill said. “Offensively we’re much better than we were because we’re taking better shots and we’re moving the ball better. We’re playing team-oriented basketball.
“We need to play a little better on transition defense. That’s something we’ve been working on.”
The Copperheads, with junior Braxton Hill leading the way, will present the Trojans with its share of challenges. Hill is considered to be one of the top players in the state who can shoot well. By doing so, he is able to draw the attention of extra defenders before passing the ball to open teammates.
Trent Mikalatos will give the Copperheads some height in the paint and was second on the team with 13.3 points per game during the regular season. Hill led all scorers with a 22.5-point average.
Bobby Swainston is a strong player who is just as comfortable from inside of the paint as he is from beyond the 3 point line.
Some say that Whitehall’s success is built around seniors Andrew Simon (11.6 points per game) and Braden Larsen (13.4) but the Trojans have proven that they are more than just a two-man squad.
Sophomore Max Feight is a strong outside shooter who is not afraid to get into the paint of needed, and leads the team with 14.5 points per game. Wyatt Alexander and Colton Noyes also have the ability to be more than merely the supporting cast.
“I’m very familiar with Whitehall as they’re very familiar with us,” Bill Hill said. “There are no secrets between us and Whitehall.
“Whitehall has some really good players. They’ve got the best team they’ve had since I can remember. But that being said, we’ve got some good players too.
“I think it’s going to be a very good game for both of us. I look at us being evenly-matched across the board right now. It depends on who shows up to play at the time.”