Twin boys make 3rd/4th place game

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

When you narrow the Class C field from 83 teams to the final 8 for the state tournament, there isn’t a weak team in the bunch. So it began to unfold last Wednesday in Missoula with competitive basketball on both the boys’ and girls’ sides.

By Friday, each tournament was down to the final four with only the consolation final and championship games left to be decided when word came down that the Montana High School Association was canceling the remainder of all tournaments due to concerns over the health and safety of players and spectators due to COVID-19.

The MHSA has received word from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services that there are now four confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As such, the Montana High School Association has no choice but to cancel the remainder of our state basketball tournaments.

Though this is not the result that the MHSA wants, the Association will designate the winners of tonight’s semifinal as co-state champions.

The MHSA and each host facility will address the refund of all session adult and student tickets for those individuals able to produce a ticket. This information will be posted on the MHSA website – www.mhsa.org.

“I think it is a travesty,” said Twin Bridges coach Josh Keller on Saturday. “It is just a bad deal for everybody out there. I know our kids are disappointed and I saw it in a lot of different team’s faces. It is just one of those things where we don’t know the whole story behind it.”

For the Twin Bridges boys, it was a tournament of redemption after dealing with disappointment a year ago and injuries and controversy this year. They advanced to the consolation final on Friday and hoped to avenge their only loss of the tourney versus Fort Benton and claim state tourney hardware.

“You just feel bad for the kids, they’ve worked so hard for so many years,” said Keller. “It is so hard to get there and get a chance to play for some hardware and you find out the season is over.”

For the four seniors on the squad, they can celebrate the fact that they knocked off rival and defending state champion Manhattan Christian Friday in the consolation semifinal. The win was sweet, even though at the time, the players were unaware that it was the last game of the season, and in the case of four-year starter Bryce Nye, Nate Konen, Jake Hughes and Trystan Harmon, the final game of their high school careers.

“If there is one thing that kind of calms it, one thing that puts our season in perspective, we can look back and say that we played maybe the best game we’ve played since we’ve been together as a group and beat a great Manhattan Christian team,” said Keller. “We just came together and everybody played hard. We had four guys in double digits, they all sacrificed, they all played tough defense, and were all unselfish on offense.”

Twin Bridges had not beaten Manhattan Christian over the four years any of these players have been in high school. The losses included tough semifinal losses at the Western A Divisional tournament the last two years.

“It was a terrific win to end the season if we had to end it, but we still had a little unfinished business we were happy to take care of,” added Keller.

That unfinished business, which will remain unfinished, was a consolation final date with Fort Benton, the team that sent Twin Bridges into the loser bracket after the opening game of the tournament.

In their opening game of the Class C State Tournament, Twin Bridges drew undefeated Fort Benton, a team that featured Hayden and Garett Diekhans, brothers with high level basketball skills.

“We didn’t get off to a good start,” said Keller. “Those Diekhans kids were relentless around the rim. Every time we got by somebody on the perimeter, Garett (6-7 senior) to deter or block the shot.”

Twin Bridges had focused this year on attacking the rim and scoring inside and with a solid rim protector in the older Diekhans, points were hard to come by. Matthew Kaiser, a 6-5 junior who had come into his own in the post-season, struggled with 8 points and 9 rebounds.

“The younger Diekhans (Hayden, 6-3 junior) got to the rim and hit a lot of big threes,” added Keller.

The brothers carried their team in the 48-39 win. Hayden, the lefty and younger brother, snagged 12 boards and scored 21 points to lead all players in both categories. The older brother Garett hit for 14 points and snared 9 rebounds.

Senior point guard Bryce Nye led Twin with 15 points, the only player in double figures.

“I’d watched a lot of film on them and I hadn’t seen them play that hard and with that much intensity,” said Keller of Fort Benton. ‘Give them credit, they D’d us up and they did what they had to do to beat us.”

The loss sent Twin Bridges into the loser bracket and a game with Garfield County, more commonly called Jordan, and more accurately called the Murnions. The starting five are all Murnion cousins – Dawson, Cole, Douglas, Edward, and Keenan. The Murnion’s scored all of Jordan’s points, and snared all but two of the team’s rebounds.

“I was a little worried about that game,” explained Keller. “I had watched them once there at the tournament and they have a solid group of kids, all hardnosed. They were all over the place and I was worried because physicality has been something that has given us trouble all year long.” The Falcons overcame the

The Falcons overcame the rough play to post a 26-15 halftime edge and won the game, 61-42.

Charlie Kruer, who may have been the Twin Bridges MVP of the tourney, scored a teamhigh 23 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. Matthew Kaiser hit for 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Tate Smith scored 10 points off the bench.

The win set-up a rematch with Manhattan Christian, the defending state C champion, a 77-39 loser to Scobey in the semifinal round.

“We got to watch that Scobey game and Scobey really got out and put a lot of pressure on those guards and got into them,” said Keller. “I knew we had some athletes and some talent, so we decided that we were just going to get into them and man them up one on one, and protect that three-point line.”

The strategy worked, particularly since it was a state tourney and the refs were letting the games play out in a physical tone, with little or no calls on tick-tack-touches.

“We were able to defend a little better and Matt Kaiser does an unbelievable job protecting the basket if anybody does get by,” said Keller And we shot well. It has been a long time since four of my five starters were in double digit scoring.”

The Falcons were on fire from the field. Kruer hit for 21 points, Kaiser for 19, senior Jake Hughes for 15, and Bryce Nye for 12. In addition to the 19 points, Kaiser ripped town a game-high 21 rebounds, nearly the total Manhattan Christian’s team had for the entire game (27).

Twin’s 67-53 win over Manhattan Christian set the stage for a battle with Fort Benton for third place.

“It would have been fun,” said Keller. “We knew we didn’t put our best effort out there in that first game and we could have played a lot better. After that Manhattan Christian game, we had all of the confidence in the world going into that Fort Benton game and then it was over.”

The tourney was canceled but the players still had their memories.

“I felt blessed to be able to coach these kids,” concluded Keller. “They did everything I asked them to, they played their hearts out to fight through all of the adversity we had this season. To get to the state tournament and win against some really good teams shows how resilient those boys are.”

STATE C BOYS’ BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT AT MISSOULA

FIRST ROUND

FORT BENTON 48, TWIN BRIDGES 39

Twin scoring – Bryce Nye 15, Charlie Kruer 7, Connor Nye 0, Tate Smith 7, Axton Anderson 0, Jake Hughes 2, Matthew Kaiser 8.

Twin three-pointers (6-22) – B. Nye 3-4, Kruer 2-6, Smith 1-7, Hughes 0-4, Kaiser 0-1. Rebounds (26) - Kaiser 9. Assists (8) – B. Nye 3, Kruer 3. Turnovers (15). Blocks (1) – Kaiser. Steals (9) - B. Nye 7.

LOSER OUT

TWIN BRIDGES 62, JORDAN 42

Twin scoring – Bryce Nye 5, Charlie Kruer 23, Tate Smith 10, Jake Hughes 2, Matthew Kaiser 15, Connor Nye 6, Axton Anderson 0.

Twin three-pointers (7-19) – B. Nye 0-1, Kruer 3-10, Smith 3-4, Hughes 0-3, Kaiser 1-1. Rebounds (31) - Kaiser 12. Assists (14) – B. Nye 5, Smith 5. Turnovers (4). Blocks (1) – Kaiser. Steals (3) - Kruer, Hughes, C. Nye.

LOSER OUT

TWIN BRIDGES 67, MANHATTAN CHRISTIAN 53

Twin scoring – Bryce Nye 12, Charlie Kruer 21, Tate Smith 0, Jake Hughes 15, Matthew Kaiser 19, Connor Nye 0.

Twin three-pointers (5-15) – B. Nye 0-4, Kruer 1-5, Smith 0-2, Hughes 3-4. Rebounds (39) - Kaiser 21. Assists (10) – B. Nye 6. Turnovers (23). Blocks (2) – Kaiser. Steals (9) - Hughes 4.

THE BRACKET

CHAMPIONSHIP – Fairview and Scobey, co-champions (tourney canceled due to COVID-19.)

SEMIFINALS – Fairview 44, Fort Benton 37. Scobey 77, Manhattan Christian 39.

FIRST ROUND – Fairview 47, Jordan 31. Fort Benton 48, Twin Bridges 39. Scobey 51, Belt 23. Manhattan Christian 70, Melstone 38.

LOSER OUT – Twin Bridges 61, Jordan 42. Belt 44, Melstone 31. Twin Bridges 67, Manhattan Christian 53. Fort Benton 47, Belt 37.

CONSOLATION CHAMPIONSHIP (3rd/4th) – Twin Bridges vs. Fort Benton, not played due to cancelation of tournament.

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