Twin Bridges takes 2nd at State C

By 
J.P. Plutt
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Elevate

Twin Bridges senior Charlie Kruer launches a shot in the state title game against Scobey. Chris McConnell/Yellowstone Newspapers photo

Onward

Twin Bridges coach Josh Keller addresses his team during a time-out in their opening round game of the State C basketball tournament at Lockwood High School in Billings. Chris McConnell/Yellowstone Newspapers photo

The Twin Bridges Falcons won a wild semifinal game over Fort Benton to advance to just the second State Class C boys basketball championship game in school history. The title game against Scobey did not go well for the Falcons and they settled for a silver trophy following a 64-27 defeat.

“When you’re down 30 points and you look up at the scoreboard, it is just hard not to put your head down,” said Twin Bridges coach Josh Keller. “But those kids played hard and they sprinted to their positions and battled. We just went into a great team that wasn’t going to get beat that night.”

It was a tournament of unfinished business. A year ago, Twin Bridges lost their opener against Fort Benton at the state tournament. The Falcons fought back in the consolation bracket and earned a chance to meet Fort Benton in the third place game, but that game never happened because the tournament was canceled after the Friday night games due to public health concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. So this year, both teams entered the semifinal game with unfinished business in mind.

Likewise, Scobey had an elite team a year ago and after they earned a berth in the state title game a year ago, the COVID-19 cancellation left Scobey short of their goal of playing in a state title game and were named cochampions with Fairview.

The Falcons (20-3) entered the state tournament with a just two losses on the season, both to Manhattan Christian. Manhattan Christian won the regular season match up and the Western C Divisional championship. Twin Bridges upset Manhattan Christian to win the District 12-C tournament championship. Manhattan Christian lost their State C semifinal game to Scobey and beat Fort Benton in the consolation championship game to place third.

In the championship game, Scobey brought a talented team with three collegiate hoop signees on the roster and what would be a 54 game winning streak after taking the title.

“These kids need to be so proud of what they have accomplished when you consider there are 82 teams in class C,” said Keller. “It is only the second time in school history that the Twin Bridges boys have made the state championship game. Of all the years and all of the great teams that have come through Twin Bridges, to be a part of the school’s elite history is impressive.”

Twin Bridges senior Charlie Kruer scored a team-high 10 points in the title game loss. According to Keller, the Falcons struggled to get the ball down court against the Scobey press.

“Basically, Scobey played a flawless game and we didn’t give ourselves enough chances on offense,” said Keller. We turned the ball over too many times in the press, but the kids never laid down, they played their butts off even when they were beat.”

Semifinal thriller

Falcons fans will remember the 39-38 win over Fort Benton in the semifinal round when they think about the 2021 State C tournament run. The Falcons battled through a back and forth battle to claim victory and advance to the state championship game.

“Charlie Kruer hit a big three to put us up by a point with about a minute left,” said Keller. “From there out, we gave them a lot of opportunities to get back in it, but we were able to get enough stops and enough rebounds to win.”

The Falcons led 21-16 at the half and trailed 28-27 after three quarters. With five minutes left, Twin trailed by 5 points before the Falcons rallied to take the lead with a minute left. From there, the crazy finish described as “Oh My” by KDBM announcers Mark Pederson and Chad Johnson, left listeners at the edge of their seats until the buzzer.

“I told the kids, we’re five minutes away from going to the state championship game,” said Keller of a time-out down the stretch. “I told them we could score on these guys enough to beat them, we’ve got to put our hearts into it and give it everything we’ve got.”

According to Keller, senior Tate Smith looked the coach in the eye and said, “We want this.”

“They all jumped on board and I could tell then and there that they were going to go out and give it everything,” said Keller.

With a minute left and Twin Bridges up 39-38 after a Kruer three-pointer, both teams endured the strain and emotion of a game that could go either way. According to Keller, the Falcons had an inbounds from the sideline twice, and lost the ball once on a tie-up jump ball and a second time they had to burn their last time-out.

And twice during the final minute, Twin Bridges missed the front end of a bonus one and one from the free throw line. On one of the misses, Twin lost the ball when a Falcon rebounded the ball but got tied up.

With 2.9 second left in the game, Fort Benton inbounded the ball and got a decent shot to win the game, a 17-foot jumper.

“It bounced off the rim and it got tipped out to one of their guys, he jumped up and caught it in the air and shot it again,” said Keller. “I thought that ball was thinking about dropping and it just bounced off the end of the rim.”

Senior Axton Anderson played a key roll in shutting down Fort Benton’s best threat, Hayden Diekhans. According to Keller, Anderson held the prolific scorer to just 7 points while defending the senior. Diekhans added 5 points when Anderson was not defending, but the effort by the senior made a big difference in the game, per the coach.

First round

Twin Bridges opened the tourney versus Bridger, the top seed from the Southern C. The Falcons, a year after losing their tourney opener, took care of business and cruised to a 63-40 win.

“I looked at a lot of film and I hadn’t seen a game where anybody put any pressure on them,” said Keller. “That is something we are decent at so we applied that and we were able to get up by 20 in the first half.”

Twin’s big three, Kruer, Tate Smith and Matt Kaiser, all seniors, hit for double digit scoring. Kruer hit for 17, Smith 15 and Kaiser 14. For the season, Kruer and Kaiser averaged about 15 points per game, with Kaiser hauling in 9 rebounds per game and Kruer 7 boards per contest.

The Falcons won the State C championship in 2009 over Rocky Boy, 63-60. The game was played at the MetraPark in Billings with coach Neil Christiaens calling the shots.

State championship game staters: Charlie Kruer, 6-6, sr. Matthew Kaiser, 6-5, sr. Tate Smith, 6-3, sr. Axton Anderson, 6-4, sr. Connor Nye, 5-10. soph. Bench: Sam Konen, 6-0, jr. Pablo Babcock, 6-1, jr. Chase Fitzpatrick, 5-9, jr. Riky Puckett, 5-8, jr. Zane Carter, 6-1, jr. Taylor Smith, 6-2, jr. Anthony Kelley, 6-1, sr. Reid Johnson, 6-3, soph. Heach coach: Josh Keller. Asst. coach: Jen Elser. Manger: Zeke Redfield. Superintendent: Thad Kaiser. Activities Director: Bobette Ferris.

State C Championship Scobey 64, Twin Bridges 27

TWIN BRIDGES: Charlie Kruer 10; Tate Smith 8; Sam Konen 5; Matt Kaiser 3; Connor Nye 1.

SCOBEY: Jayce Tande 15; Parker Cromwell 14; Aidan Fishell 9; Caden Handran 7; Reagan Machart 6; Rio Booth 6; Bo Anderson 5; Cole Taylor 2.

Semifinal

Twin Bridges 39, Fort Benton 38 TWIN BRIDGES: Charlie Kruer 16, Connor Nye 2, Tate Smith 14, Matt Kaiser 7.

FORT BENTON: Nick Marias 2, Hayden Diekhans 12, Cody Evans 9, Billy Ullery 4, Devin Bird 8, Jaxen De-Haven 3.

First Round

Twin Bridges 63, Bridger 40

TWIN BRIDGES: Charlie Kruer 17; Tate Smith 15; Matt Kaiser 14; Connor Nye 6; Axton Anderson 4; Anthony Kelley 4; Sam Konen 2; Riky Puckett 1.

BRIDGER: Baylor Pospisil 15; Jace Weimer 12; Cooper Frank 7; Chance Goltz 3; Lucius Payovich 3.

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