There were no loud whoops, no chest bumps in celebration.
Just handshakes and happy, sweaty hugs.
The AA West team was too exhausted for much else.
“Oh yeah, very tired,” said Jesson Preston with a smile while holding his first-place plaque.
The AA West, dubbed the “Iron Six,” by its coach, used a fast start and clutch finish to defeat AA South 93-77 Saturday afternoon for the championship at the Billings Hotel Senior Classic.
The three-day tournament, featuring some of the top senior boys basketball players from around the state, was played at Billings Senior High school.
Because of prom commitments, AA West had only six players in uniform.
“We started (the tournament) with nine but lost three,” said coach Kevin Morales. “We knew this would happen if we got into the championship.
“The kids played very well. It’s a compliment to them how hard they played knowing the situation. The kids just played tremendous.”
Hunter Mahlum led AA West with 25 points, while Preston added 24 and Brady Henthorn 22.
The AA South, with 10 players, was led by Karson Kidgell’s 15 points, while Christian Kappel had 11 and Jory Egeland 10.
To keep players relatively fresh, Morales subbed out a player approximately every two minutes, “A rotating wheel,” he said. Morales also used his full complement of timeouts to give the players a breather. Morales added that teams are not allowed to play zone defense in the tournament.
“You get a lot more winded,” said Preston of playing with a short roster. “But it’s kind of fun knowing you’re going to get a lot of playing time.”
The AA West scored the first 13 points of the game, including three consecutive 3-pointers by 6-foot-7 Patrick Colberg of Missoula Hellgate.
“That definitely sparked us,” Preston said of Colberg’s long-range shooting.
Colberg had four 3-pointers in the first quarter as the AA West built leads of 13-0, 16-2 and 27-6.
Jorey Egeland’s scoop shot got AA South within 42-36 of the AA West but Preston answered with a 3-pointer.
AA West led 47-37 by halftime.
“We talked about two important things: taking care of the ball and rebounding,” Morales said. “We wanted to limit them to one shot and I think we did a good job of doing that.”
Morales also tapped into his mental databank.
“I know the AA South players,” said the assistant basketball and football coach at Billings Skyview. “So I know a lot of their tendencies.
“I shared that with the players,” he finished with a grin.
With four different players scoring points, the AA South scored the final nine points of the third quarter and trailed 62-55 going into the final period.
Preston and Mahlum opened the fourth quarter with two free throws each. Quinn Abdallah’s basket for the AA South trimmed the lead to single digits, 74-63, but the team of Billings players could get no closer.
The AA West made 10 free throws in the final 2:16.
“You start looking at the clock late in the game,” admitted Preston.
“It feels good to win this thing.”