BILLINGS — Colter Miller leaned against the brick wall at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark outside the locker room as his teammates emerged to go have pictures taken with their Southern B Divisional championship trophy and ran his hand through his close-cropped hair.
Every so often, when he’d have something to say about the Lodge Grass Indians, he’d turn his head and glance down the hall, and even though no one was standing there, give a nod.
“Holy crap,” said Miller, a 6-foot-3 junior, after the Wolves held off the Indians 69-56 in front of a boisterous MetraPark crowd, “that’s a heck of a basketball team. I wouldn’t have rather played anybody else.
“You ever play in the Snake Pit in Anaconda? It’s so loud, that this reminds me of it. It was so loud and incredible, every second of it you try to take in. This game went by so fast and it was so fun.”
Miller scored 23 points behind Micaiah Hauser’s 25 to help the Wolves withstand every Lodge Grass charge. Three Forks led pretty much the whole way — there was only one lead change all night — but it was largely a two possession game most of the game until the end.
It wasn’t until the final minute when Three Forks made 9 of 10 free throws and Lodge Grass was missing shots in desperation, did any true separation show. The final score was the largest margin between the teams.
In the final moments, Three Forks coach Terry Hauser strolled to the end of his bench, where junior Payden Lynn was standing and applauding. Hauser put his arm around Lynn, who was the team’s leading scorer 24 hours earlier in a semifinal win, and kissed Lynn’s head.
Lynn was in street clothes. He played the last two quarters of Friday’s game with a broken foot, and will miss at least the next six weeks, which includes next week’s state tournament in March. If Lynn isn’t the team’s second-best player, Hauser said, he’s definitely the soul and a captain. But enough Wolves filled in, and they shot 55 percent for the game and never allowed Lodge Grass a run of better than six points.
“Last week he went down in the (5B District) championship and we struggled,” said Terry Hauser, whose team lost to Big Timber then. “But we learned so much from it. I’d rather have a divisional championship than a district championship. I love him, I love all these guys.”
Mylon Blacksmith led Lodge Grass with 14 points and Ethan Dust added 13. The Indians (14-8), like the Wolves (20-4), will also be making the trip next week to Missoula.
Colstrip 52, Joliet 36
Payton Means scored 12 points and Isaiah Williams added 11, and the Colstrip Colts claimed third place with a 52-36 win over Joliet.
The Colts (21-1) and J-Hawks (13-11) earned trips to next week's state tournament in Missoula with loser-out wins in the morning.
For Colstrip, which entered the divisional unbeaten, third place might not have been the trophy the Colts were playing for. But coach Joe Egan was quick to remind that the team's ultimate goal was still in front of them.
Colstrip will be making its first state appearance since 2003, when the Colts were a Class A program.
After losing a first-round game to Three Forks on Thursday, the Colts won their next three, including a win over Big Timber Saturday morning.
"We're very pleased with how we played and how we responded to a loss," Egan said. "How we came back through. We've got another opportunity to get to Saturday night next week and hopefully, if we play well and do things right, I think we've got a shot."
Taylor Rowlison continued his fine tournament with 20 points in the loss to Colstrip. On Friday, he scored 46 points to break the school record previously held by assistant coach Michael Robinson.
The J-Hawks are hoping for bigger things next weekend in Missoula, too.
"We went to a tournament in Missoula this summer and so we talked then about how it would be neat to come back to this floor," said coach John Nelson. "I honestly felt we should have been (at state) last year with the group we had, so it's emotionally bittersweet for those seniors we had that didn't get to go.
"But these kids earned it. They worked their butts off and they earned it."
Colstrip 59, Big Timber 50
Isaiah Williams scored 22 points to help the Colts to a strong second half in a 59-50 morning win over Big Timber.
Big Timber led 21-19 at the half, but Colstrip scored 40 points in the second half to keep its season alive. Joel McRae added 13 points and Payton Means had 12 for Colstrip, which shot 59 percent in the second half.
Blake Finn hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points for Big Timber.
Joliet 39, Roundup 38
A game-tying free throw with 1.1 seconds left was not counted when Roundup was called for a lane violation, and Joliet hung on to beat the Panthers 39-38 in a morning loser-out game.
Taylor Rowlison scored 15 points to lead Joliet.
Kelson Eiselein had 21 points and 12 rebounds for Roundup.
This was the fourth meeting of the year between the teams. Roundup had won the previous three games by 5, 4, and 4 points.