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Longhorns, Beeters at the top of a loaded field

While Fort Benton and Chinook are Northern C favorites, CJI will be a darkhorse


Last updated 2/23/2021 at 8:12am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Fort Benton's Jase Thompson, right, shoots over the Chinook defense during last Saturday's District 9C boys championship game in Havre. Both the Longhorns and Sugarbeeters are now set to play in the Northern C, which starts this afternoon at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.

There's no rest for the three District 9C boys basketball teams that qualified for the Northern C Divisional Tournament this week in Great Falls. That's because, in order to play the tournament with all of the coronavirus safety protocols in place, it has to be stretched an extra day, meaning today marks the start of a five-day odyssey in Great Falls.

The tournament, which usually runs Wednesday through Saturday, will be much different this year, with fewer games per day, limited fans, and one-hour breaks in between games. But what won't be different will be how tough it is, and the 9C is a big part of that.

The Chester-Joplin-Inverness Hawks (7-12) play the first game of the Northern C tonight at 6 when they take on 10C third-place Dutton Brady. The Diamondbacks will be a tough task for the Hawks, with the likes of Tyler Ellsworth, Rylan Doheny, Tyce Erickson and a deep roster, but CJI is red-hot now, having won three straight to reach Great Falls. And with the Harmon brothers, Kealy Haaland, Bryce Kammerzell and others really coming of age, the Hawks are poised to make plenty of noise in their first Northern C appearance in six seasons.

"You got to step it up a level when you go to divisionals because the competition gets tougher," CJI head coach Joe Horel said. "We just keep working with each other and I think the team spirit has caught on and they know that as a team, they can do some pretty cool things."

The winner of the CJI/Dutton-Brady game meets 8C champion Belt (15-0) in the first round Thursday at 3:30 p.m. On that side of the draw also sits 9C runner-up Chinook (14-3). The Sugarbeeters have lost just three times, all to Fort Benton, and they're making their sixth straight trip to the Northern C. Head coach Mike Seymour's team is loaded with veteran talent, including the high-scoring Ethan Bell, as well as stalwarts like Reese Elliot and Toby Niederegger. Of course, the Warriors (11-5) are also familiar with the Northern C, and though they were the 10C runner-up, led by seniors Cameron Falcon and Jordan Kipp, they'll be a tough first opponent for the Beeters.

"Now it's another tournament," Seymour said. "We got Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday to prepare and go back to work and then we go into the tournament ready to go."

Fort Benton (17-1) will no doubt be ready to go. The defending Northern C champions ran through the 9C this year, with stars Hayden Diekhans, Jase Thompson, Billy Ullery and Devin Bird being bolstered by several talented up-and-comers. Now, they look to repeat as Northern C champs, and that drive begins tonight at 8:30 when they battle the Winnett-Grass Range Rams (10-6) in the opening round. Walker Dornan is a scoring machine for the Rams, but the Longhorns will be heavy favorites.

"That's going to be tough just playing that late and we got to make sure that we're ready to go," Fort Benton head coach Tyler Pasha said. "It's going to be a grind all the days that we're there because everybody wants to make it to that last weekend."

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Chester-Joplin-Inverness' Kealy Haaland shoots during a 9C loser-out game last Friday in Havre. Haaland and the Hawks are making their first Northern C appearance in six years.

If Fort Benton advances to the semifinals, the Longhorns will play either 10C champion Simms or 8C runner-up Roy-Winifred. That game may be the most intriguing of the opening round as the Tigers (18-0) are loaded with stars, including Caden and Kyler Smerker among so many others. Simms is also coached by former Havre Blue Pony and Chinook coach Chris Daniel. The Outlaws (10-3) won't be a pushover either, with an experienced roster. That game takes place Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.

The Northern C semifinals will be played Friday at 6 and 8:30 p.m., while loser-out games will be Wednesday at 1 p.m., Friday at 8 and 10:30 a.m. and Saturday at 8 and 10:30 a.m. The consolation game is set for Saturday at 6 p.m. and the championship game will be played at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. A challenge game, if needed, will be held Monday at 6 p.m.

All of the action at the Northern C will take place at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The tournament starts today and runs through Saturday night, with the top two teams advancing to the Class C state tournament, March 10-13 at Lockwood High School in Billings.


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