BILLINGS — Manhattan Christian is here to accomplish one goal — break through an aggravating state championship roadblock.
Sam Leep and Caleb Bellach made sure the Eagles cleared the first hurdle.
Leep scored 26 points Thursday night to lead Manhattan Christian to a 54-48 victory over Fairview in the first round of the Class C state boys basketball tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. The junior guard was especially clutch in the first half, scoring 20 of the Eagles first 27 points.
Bellach, meanwhile, rose up when it mattered most, scoring seven points in a 1:10 stretch of the fourth quarter, including a dunk that gave the Eagles a five-point advantage with less than two minutes to go.
Bellach, a Montana State signee, scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half.
The win pushed Manhattan Christian (24-0) into Friday’s semifinal round where they'll face Melstone. The Eagles are looking to avenge their fate from the previous two seasons when they fell to Arlee in back-to-back state title games.
“We want another shot at it,” Manhattan Christian coach Jeff Bellach said. “We don’t talk about it a whole lot, but everybody knows that's what we’re working for. The little things that we do talk about, the understanding is that's what we want, to get another shot at that state title.
“We’re one win away, and it feels good to be there.”
Leep was unguardable in the first half. He shot 7 of 8 from the floor and made all four of his 3-point shots. Leep also scored six points quickly after halftime as the Eagles built a double-digit lead.
“I was just getting open looks. Caiden (Hill) was setting me up nice,” Leep said. “I was just looking to attack. That was basically my mindset, just to attack.”
But Fairview never went away. A 7-0 scoring run to start the fourth quarter pulled the Warriors within one on the scoreboard. Alex Schriver’s three free throws with 2:51 left tied the game 43-43. But that’s when Bellach came alive.
Schriver led Fairview (21-4) with 19 points while Cody Asbeck added 17 points and eight rebounds.
Melstone 78, Hays-Lodgepole 55
Brody Grebe and Melstone wasted no time jumping up on Hays-Lodgepole and cruised into the semifinals with a 78-55 victory. The do-it-all Grebe finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals without a turnover in 27-plus minutes on the floor.
Shayden Cooke added 19 for the Broncs, who will get their chance at a rematch with Manhattan Christian in the semifinals. The Eagles beat Melstone 55-40 in a game on Dec. 8. It was the only loss of the year for the Broncs (24-1).
“We were very raw and hadn’t played a lot together," Grebe said of that first matchup with Manhattan Christian. “We’ve gotten so much better.
“We’ve just got to lock down and work the ball around and be able to get good shots and not get sped up too much. They like to get out in transition.”
It will be an intriguing re-acquaintance between Grebe and Bellach, who have played AAU ball together for a number of years on a team that has also included the likes of Missoula Hellgate's Rollie Worster, Lewistown's Jaden Graham, Billings Central's Crishon Dixon and Bozeman's Ryan Simpson.
“I know Caleb very well,” said Grebe, who has scored more than 2,400 career points. “I’ve played a lot of basketball with him.”
With the loss, Hays-Lodgepole (18-9) dropped into the loser-out side of the bracket to face Fairview. Gilbert Snow, before apparently breaking his nose in a collision under the basket late, scored 13 points to lead the Thunderbirds. Ken Blackcrow Jr. added 12.
Chinook 67, Plenty Coups 51
Shortly after Chinook won its first state tournament game in 33 years, Sugarbeeters low-post strongman Cord Schneider was already itching to play in the semifinals.
“We’re excited. We’re really happy,” Schneider said. “We’re ready for tomorrow. We want to win. We want to keep going. This means a lot to everybody.”
The 6-foot-4 Schneider had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Chinook to a 67-51 victory over Plenty Coups. The Sugarbeeters have a date Friday with two-time reigning champion Arlee, a 63-57 first-round winner over previously unbeaten Scobey
The last time the Sugarbeeters advanced this far — or even made a state tournament — was in 1986 when they were playing in the Class B ranks. That was also the last time they won a state championship.
It took a strong defensive effort to slow Plenty Coups, which came in averaging 77.9 points per game. Chinook (25-0) limited the Warriors (21-4) to their second-lowest point total all year. Plenty Coups shot just 29 percent in the first half.
“We’ve worked hard defensively all year. Total team effort,” eighth-year Chinook coach Mike Seymour said. “From the beginning of the year we’ve talked about team defense, team offense, everybody staying together.
“They don’t care about the playing time, they don’t care about who scores, all that matters is who wins. They’ve bought into that philosophy. From the No. 1 guy to the No. 12 guy, everybody is of equal importance. I think that’s critical.”
It showed, as Isaac Bell added 14 points and Hunter Neibauer and Brendan Edwards each added nine. The Sugarbeeters made 58 percent of their shots, scored 36 points in the paint and attempted just four 3-pointers.
Julian Glenn scored 21 points for Plenty Coups.
“We’re 1-0,” Seymour said. “Our next goal is to be 2-0.”
Arlee 63, Scobey 57
Arlee’s three-peat hopes are alive and well after it toppled Scobey 63-57.
It took a challenge game win over Twin Bridges for the Warriors (23-2) to get here following a Western C title game defeat to Manhattan Christian. Arlee, the winner of the previous two State C championships, isn't going quietly.
“We know we’re the underdogs coming into this,” said Arlee guard Greg Whitesell, who led all scorers with 23 points. “It’s kind of weird to think about, especially since we’re the defending state champions two times in a row.
“For us to come in as an underdog, we’ve used that as fuel. We’re hungry and we know that we have another opportunity. It’s exciting stuff.”
It would have been a tough draw for Scobey (21-1) whether it faced Arlee or Manhattan Christian in the opening round. The Spartans trailed by two at halftime but didn’t score their first points after intermission until nearly four minutes had gone by in the third quarter.
That allowed the Warriors to gain some separation, and they held on.
Isaac Fisher posted a double double for Arlee (13 points, 11 rebounds) while Cody Tanner added 11 points. Scobey, which will play Plenty Coups in a Friday loser-out game, was led by Aiden Fishell’s 15 points.