FLORENCE — Every rivalry game needs a good name, a few rallying words for fans and athletes alike and a calling card for signs in the student section.

The matchup between Florence and Loyola Sacred Heart has gone too long without one.

Florence coach Duane Zeiler, standing in the hallway just outside his home court, said he doesn't know when the added intensity seeped into the game, but it's been there since before his players who suited up Thursday night were even born.

"It was going on when I was in high school; that was in 1985," the fourth-year skipper said. 

A Falcons assistant coach pitched "Heart of the Valleys" after his boys fell in a hard-fought 61-53 District 6-B matchup to the Rams. The Florence athletic director coined "River Rivalry" midway through the girls' game, which ended with a 66-57 Florence win.

But Loyola girls' coach Travis Walker and Florence junior Rilee Mangun had a favorite:

Clash of the Confluence.

"I like the clash — I do!" said Mangun.

It's fitting. Just down U.S. Highway 93 and west of Missoula, the Bitterroot River, which carves out Florence's home valley, finds its way to Missoula's leg of the Clark Fork River. The two teams follow that stretch each time they travel to take the court against each other.

And with a name as cool as Mangun, she should know what sounds good. The 5-foot-10 post also had a monster game in the win.

She shared Florence's team lead in scoring with 19 (Danielle Zahn added 19 as well), and she helped even out an early rebounding deficit to Loyola.

"Everything that Rilee did tonight, I mean, she did nothing wrong," Zeiler said. "She's kind of the unsung hero on our team. She's the hub. Wherever Rilee goes, that's where our team goes as a whole."

Eleven of Mangun's 19 came in the second half and 17 of Zahn's 19 were in the final two quarters as well, lifting the Falcons to a comeback win. Makenna Liles added another 16 for the Falcons.

"We did what we wanted to the first half, we controlled tempo a little bit, but the second half we just got out of rhythm a little bit for a three or four minute period," said Loyola coach Travis Walker, whose team was paced by Tessa Burke's 24 points.

The Breakers (7-3 overall, 3-2 in conference) led 26-22 at halftime, but a Zahn 3-pointer gave the Falcons a 34-33 lead midway through the third, and Florence (10-1, 4-0) never trailed again.

"I know the girls wanted the game, we all did, but hats off to Florence," Walker said.


In the boys' game, it was the Rams who emerged from the clash victorious, using a comeback effort of their own. The win meant sole possession of first place in District 6-B with Loyola (7-3 overall, 4-1 in conference) now holding a half-game lead on Florence (7-4, 3-1).

Loyola's Jacob Hollenback played a big part in the rivalry win.

Hollenback had his self-described "best game of the season." The junior point guard scored 16 points, seven in the second quarter as Loyola's big-three fought through foul trouble. 

"We knew they would guard our other kids tonight and (Hollenback) is pretty good with the ball and off the dribble and we did talk about him attacking early and often," Loyola coach Eddie Stack said. "He got going a little more than he normally does, which was a big deal for us tonight. ... He played a great floor game, as your point guard should."

The performance was extra special for Hollenback because of the heightened competition level. His sister and Loyola basketball standout Skylar Hollenback passed on the importance of the matchup. 

"Oh, it means a ton. It's a different excitement when you get to play Florence. I grew up watching all of my (family) play Florence and it was always just the biggest game — it just is," Jacob said. "... Losing that first game to Florence (on Dec. 16) and battling back with these two good wins these last two weeks against conference opponents has been really good."

Loyola junior Jack Lincoln scored a game-high 24 for the Rams, adding a pair of clutch 3-pointers and nine total points in the fourth quarter before fouling out. His two triples extended the Rams' two-point lead to 49-41 with 4:55 remaining.

And Lincoln was pumped. He has just provided some breathing room in the clash of the confluence. 

"... It's always a big one for 'em in the Falcon-dome as we call it," Stack said.

In all, the sheer proximity between the two teams have created an interesting blending of identities for many involved in the game. 

Walker, the Loyola girls' coach, coached the Florence boys in 2004-05 when the Falcons placed third at state.

Current Florence boys' coach Caleb DeGroot was a Loyola grad himself, playing basketball for the Rams in 2008-09. He complimented his former team, but hopes the loss — the Falcons' first in conference — serves as a lesson moving forward.

"There's a lot to learn from that game and a lot to grow from," said DeGroot who got double-figure scoring from Marcus Zeiler (19), Brent Stroppel (15), Dillon Christopherson (11). "... We gotta heal from this. We gotta figure out how to handle the ball with a little pressure.

"I love them, I'm proud of them, but losing is never OK."

It's one they'll take with them through the remainder of the regular season and into an inevitable third round of the rivalry at the district tournament between two top teams in the conference.

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

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