MISSOULA — Cody Tanner hadn't hit a shot all night.
But when the time came to take the biggest one of the game, the Arlee junior guard didn't hesitate.
Tanner's buzzer-beating 3-pointer from three feet beyond the arc gave the Class C second-ranked Warriors a 68-66 victory over Class B third-ranked Loyola Sacred Heart Tuesday in Missoula. Arlee seventh-year boys basketball coach Zanen Pitts, who has guided his team to state titles the past two seasons, called it the biggest regular-season contest he's ever coached.
"There were some moments when the boys could have got frazzled, could have got nervous," Pitts said of the standing-room-only atmosphere, "and I just kept telling them, 'Smile man. Where else would you rather be on a Tuesday night than here having fun?'
"There's nowhere else I'd rather be."
It didn't seem like such a pleasant place for Arlee (17-1) early in the fourth quarter. Loyola (14-3) built a 60-48 lead and the Warriors' 6-foot-9 senior post, Isaac Fisher, fouled out.
Gradually Arlee fought back by taking the ball to the bucket and forcing the Rams to score at the foul line rather than giving up the same short-range looks they had allowed for three quarters.
Jacob Hollenback put the hosts in position to win when the senior guard hit a pair of free throws to give Loyola a 66-65 lead with 22.9 ticks left. Arlee brought the ball up the floor and called timeout with 9.2 ticks remaining.
"I drew up a play for the (far) side and the ref put it in on the other side, so the kids ran it backwards and kind of got caught off guard," Pitts said of the broken play that ended in thrilling fashion for his team.
The fateful sequence started with Lane Johnson in-bounding the ball to Tanner. Loyola denied an Arlee pass inside and the ball was tipped outside, where the Warriors' Darshan Bolen tracked it down and flipped it to Tanner, who made his fateful shot.
"I just got the ball, Dar (Bolen) kicked it out to me and I was just confident," said Tanner, a first-year starter whose only other points came at the foul line. "I saw the rim and just went up with my shot.
"This is definitely the top moment for me — this and winning the championships."
Loyola's Jack Lincoln led all scorers with 25 points. Johnson led the Warriors with 18 points and Greg Whitesell added 17.
Although his team ended up on the short end, Hollenback said it was an enjoyable game to be part of on his home court.
"They came back twice down from 10 and we had to respond to that and it was a fun game," he said. "We learned a lot from it and it will definitely help us come divisional time."
Loyola girls rally
The Breakers overcame a nine-point halftime deficit in beating Arlee at Sister Rita Activity Center, 70-62. Freshman Lani Walker was clutch down the stretch for Loyola, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes and finishing with a game-high 29.
"The girls settled down at halftime, and the press, we did a lot better job of dropping and rotating and it forced a lot of turnovers for us in the second half," Loyola coach Travis Walker said. "The (Arlee 6-foot-1 post Alyssia) Vanderburg girl is a great player and it took our girls a while to realize it's OK to go at her hard. When we decided to take it in there hard, good things started happening."
Vanderburg led the Scarlets with 21 points.