Twin Ennis boys

Ennis' Ty Morgan is triple-teamed by Twin Bridges' Cooper Christensen, left, Clay Wolfe and Chace Guinnane while trying to take a shot in the second quarter of Saturday's District 12C championship game at the Maroon Activities Center.

Al Balderas, The Montana Standard

The Twin Bridges boys’ basketball team needed a near-perfect game to win the District 12C Tournament, Saturday night at the Maroon Activities Center.

They got it.

After losing twice to Ennis during the regular season, Twin Bridges rebounded at the most-opportune time, posting a 39-36 win over the Mustangs to win the tournament.

“The Ennis boys are competitive in everything that they do,” Twin Bridges coach Josh Keller said after guiding the Twin Bridges girls’ team to a championship as well. “For us to beat their boys’, that was a big milestone for the kids. We knew we could do it but it hasn’t happened yet. For us to do it at this time, for us to see that what we believe in works, was awesome. It was great.”

The mission was clear, though anything but easy. The Falcons knew that to beat the Mustangs, they had to find a way to shut down players like Jake Knack, Gavin McKitrick and Ty Morgan.

The Falcons held Knack to 11 points, McKitrick had two and Morgan finished with 3.

Tracer Croy picked up some of the slack for the Mustangs, with a team-high 14 points.

“I’ve got two phenomenal athletes in Wesley Harshbarger and Chase Guinnane,” Keller added. “They’re good enough to shut anybody down. But not only did they do such a great job, the other three had to pick up the slack. They had to stop Morgan and Knack, two of the best players in the state.

“It was going to take a perfect game to beat Ennis and we played as close to a perfect game as we could.”

Ennis coach Jared Smithson was disappointed in the game’s outcome and gave credit to the Falcons but he also said that his team was not its usual self when the game started.

“Our kids just put way too much pressure on themselves,” he said. “We told them to loosen up, enjoy it but we played like we didn’t win the two games this season.

“We struggled. It was all in our heads. No matter what I said to try to bring them together or to try to get them to calm down, they just put way too much pressure on themselves.”

Despite the self-imposed pressure, Ennis tied the score at 23 with 3:32 left in the third quarter on a basket by Knack. Unfortunately, that was as close as the Mustangs came to winning during the second half.

The Falcons responded to Knack’s basket with a layup from Guinnane and a 3-pointer from Daniel Kruer moments later, giving Twin Bridges a 29-24 lead.

Ennis used a 3 by Croy to cut the lead back to two points as the teams turned the corner into the fourth quarter.

The Falcons stretched their led to six points on a basket by Harshbarger but the Mustangs got it back to one on another 3 by Croy with 3 minutes remaining.

The Falcons were able to hang on for the title.

“After we lost to them that second time we went back to the gym and we weren’t motivated at all,” recalled Harshbarger, who scored a team-high 10 points for the Falcons. “We thought our season was over. Coach came in and told us that we weren’t working hard. We knew we could get them when we were playing well but we weren’t playing well. We kept working and focused on a lot of our defense.”

Smithson said that Saturday’s game will serve as a learning experience, one that will hopefully come in handy in Monday’s challenge game. That game will be against Drummond at 6 p.m., at the Maroon Activities Center.

“If anything, it’s going to help us more than it’s going to hurt us,” he said. “We struggled, even against P-burg (Philipsburg) putting up points. We just struggled getting into our flow. We were forcing outside shots when they weren’t necessary. It was just little things that we did to ourselves mentally and we played mind game with ourselves.”

Consolation championship

Colby Manley scored 11 points and Drummond used a big first quarter to beat Granite, 46-30, to finish in third place of the boys’ District 12C tournament – for now.

Drummond didn’t play Ennis during the three-day tournament and has challenged the runner-up Mustangs in an attempt to take second in the tournament.

The teams will return to the Maroon Activities Center for a 6 p.m. game on Monday.

The Trojans outscored the Prospectors, 14-6 to take control early before a 17-8 third quarter put the game out of reach.

The Prospectors were led by Tristan Linn, who netted a game-high 15 points.

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