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Boys and girls, it was a basketball season for the ages in Fort Benton


March 23, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The Fort Benton boys and girls basketball teams had an incredible 2019-2020 season on the hardwood. Both teams won the District 9C championship, while the boys went on to win the Northern C, and the girls came within one game of joining them at the state tournament earlier this month.

Dominance is a strong word in the world of sports and is not taken lightly. A team has to earn the title of dominance through a lot of hard work and climbing the ladder of success. Often times, those teams that prove their dominance often go down in history for such accomplishments.

In high school sports, that dominant presence is not easily achievable in some cases, and, as many Hi-Line basketball fans know, the District 9C is not an easy conference to dominate. But in the 2019-2020 basketball season, there was not just a team that ruled the 9C, but an entire school: the Fort Benton Longhorns.

Both the boys and girls teams from Fort Benton have recorded a year on the court that not many can claim. Combined, both the boys and girls teams racked up a dominant 50-2 season overall record. The Fort Benton boys went 24-0 in the 9C and the Northern C, while adding two more wins at the Class C state tournament in Dahlberg Arena at the University of Montana in Missoula earlier this month, and only suffering one loss to Fairview throughout the season, ending the year with a 26-1 overall record.

And head coach Tyler Pasha could not be prouder of what his team did this season.

"This season was a great accomplishment that the boys worked so hard for not just during the season but summer tournaments and camps that they went to," Pasha said. "I don't think anyone at the beginning of the year would have said we would go undefeated until state, but the boys handled any pressure that comes with it very well."

When it comes to the 9C, the Fort Benton boys had a lot in their way. District rivals like the Chinook Sugarbeeters, North Star Knights and the Big Sandy Pioneers stood in the Longhorns' path to the top multiple times throughout the season, but Fort Benton overcame each and every one of those obstacles.

Then the Longhorns had to face the Northern C, with challenges like the Belt Huskies, and once again Fort Benton had to face more humps in the road. But once again, the Longhorns proved to stay on top of things by claiming the Northern C championship. Even bolder, they prepared for an undefeated record, printing 24-0 shirts before they even won the Northern C.

Doing all that in one season is not an easy thing to handle, either, but Pasha made sure to instill the right mindset throughout the year.

"Handling being undefeated, was definitely added pressure but I think the boys handled it as well as you could ask for," Pasha said. "We rarely talked about going undefeated throughout the year but how important each game was no matter who we faced. Making sure that we were prepared each week made the year fly by. We stayed focused on each game instead of being focused on the standings."

The big thing that kept the Longhorns rolling in the year was their offensive prowess and depth. Within the games they played throughout the season, the boys racked up 1,746 total points and over 255 field goals. Putting up those stats took excellent showings from players like Jace Thompson, Logan Giles and Stephen Gannon making a good dent in the scoreboard.

Fort Benton had a dynamic duo in Garrett and Hayden Diekhans, too.

The Diekhans brothers led the way to glory throughout much of the season, each boasting an incredible set of skills. Senior Garrett Diekhans had his height, leadership and offensive skill on his side, which led him to put up over 283 points this year. Junior Hayden Diekhans was not far behind his older brother. Hayden Diekhans' height, passion and great shooting made him a standout, too, with over 262 points this season.

Despite all the points and field goals the Longhorns boys had this season, there were still some tough hiccups along the way. After all, dominant teams have to experience some tough blows to make it to the top. Pasha remembered one week that hit his team hard.

"There are always bumps along the way during the season whether it be injury or illness and we had plenty," Pasha said. "One week in particular, we had seven kids including two starters and two backups out due to the flu. Our depth played a huge role all year but that week especially was important."

All the ups and downs became a big part of the Fort Benton boys' journey at the Class C state tournament, where those rises and falls continued. The Longhorns opened in strong with a win over Twin Bridges but fell to rival Fairview in the semifinals. After beating Belt again, the quest for third place was on, that is, if the tournament was not cancelled by the Montana High School Association due to the coronavirus concern.

It was a major year for the Longhorns boys and Pasha has a lot to be thankful for.

"I think the five seniors on this year's team were immensely important to how our season started and finished," Pasha said. "I can't say enough about the character they showed after the way the season ended. I'm so proud of how the have grown over their high school careers and they will be missed in the years to come."

Meanwhile, the Fort Benton girls performed their own powerful year. They put up a record season, going undefeated in the 9C and with only one loss to Belt at the Northern C Divisionals, the Longhorns girls ended the year with a 24-1overall record.

And under head coach Cassie Pimperton, the team had some great coaching on its side, too.

The hardwood across the 9C was not safe when the Fort Benton girls were on the court. They wreaked havoc throughout the season, even holding teams to less than 10 points a couple times. Like always, an undefeated record in the 9C is not something that comes simply.

The Longhorn's girls had to go through tough teams like Turner, Hays-Lodge Pole and North Star to make it to the top of the regular season. Come to the District 9C tournament in the Havre High Gymnasium, Fort Benton had to overcome the Thunderbirds in the semifinals then the rising storm of the Tornadoes in the championship to rule the 9C for the third year in a row. To handle a task like that takes a lot of skill and discipline week in and week out.

After the 9C tournament, the Longhorns had to get through the Northern C to make it to the Class C state tournament. With a win to start of the divisionals right, Fort Benton met a force in the Belt Huskies in the semifinals, falling just short of a ticket to Missoula. But the Longhorns placed third at the Northern C divisionals. Fort Benton still had a shot at state, that is, if Roy-Winifred lost to Belt. That did not happen, though, ending their season with only one loss.

Even so, the Longhorns girls put up a lot of points this season, as well. Over the course of the year, the Fort Benton girls totaled 1,802 points. To put up all those points takes a lot of offensive prowess and leadership.

And the Longhorns girls had two standout athletes in that regard.

Senior MeKenzie Clark gave it her all this year on the hardwood. Her leadership helped drive Fort Benton forward, her shooting was exemplary in every game she played and overall Clark's 244-plus points made her a name to be feared of on the court. Clark carried a lot of passion throughout the season, as well, which brought even more fire to the already intense Longhorns.

Then came along 3-pointer threat Aspen Giese. Giese lit up the trey line, especially against the HLP T-Birds in the District 9C semifinal game, where she dropped six 3-pointers along with a 26-point game. From there, Giese kept on rising to the occasion, sinking more treys and giving her team the boost it needed multiple times, which helped her put up over 225 points this year.

At the end of the day, even if the Fort Benton girls did not make it to the big dance in Missoula, the Longhorns made history this year and look to continue to do so in the future. Finishing in third place at divisionals and going undefeated in the 9C takes effort and the girls put in some and much more.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The Fort Benton boys and girls basketball teams had an incredible 2019-2020 season on the hardwood. Both teams won the District 9C championship, while the boys went on to win the Northern C, and the girls came within one game of joining them at the state tournament earlier this month.

The District 9C saw a lot of things this year, but the Fort Benton boys and girls made something historic out of it all. Combining for a 50-2 overall season record and 3,548 points is huge for a Class C program. The Longhorns shared talented senior leadership, great offensive prowess and excellent coaching to help bring about their insane year.

Even with a lot of senior talent passing now, the Fort Benton boys and girls have a good future as contenders for the top of the 9C. But, with the uncertainty of the future of sports at large, Hi-Line fans will have to see what the future holds. Regardless, the story of the Hook 'Em Longhorns will go down in history as a big season for Fort Benton basketball.

Indeed, it was as special as special gets this winter for Fort Benton. Every step of the way, from December to March, one thing was constant, the Fort Benton boys and girls won, and won a lot, and, they gave their fans a winter they'll never forget in the historic town along the might Missouri River.


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