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ABOVE – Twin Bridges’ Daniel Kruer goes for a basket against an Arlee defender at the divisional challenge game in Deer Lodge on Wednesday, February 27. The Falcons lost to Arlee by one point, just missing out on a berth in the state tournament. (G. Banks)

Everything they had

Twin Bridges boys just miss state championship berth

TWIN BRIDGES—After being twice delayed due to weather, the Twin Bridges Falcons played a challenge game against the Arlee Warriors in Deer Lodge on Wednesday evening, February 27.

Arlee was the runner up at the divisional championships, which took place in Butte February 21-23. But, since Twin Bridges, who placed third, didn’t play Arlee in the tournament, they were allowed to challenge and play the Warriors in an attempt to sweep their state championship berth out from under them.

The Warriors were the state champions last year and were ranked second in Class C behind Manhattan Christian, who defeated them in this year’s divisional championship. Manhattan also handed Twin Bridges their first loss of the season at the divisional tournament.

The Falcons brought their A game on Wednesday evening, eager to claw their way into a state bound spot they more than deserve after the stellar season they’ve had.

By halftime Twin Bridges would be leading 29-23, keeping the momentum that has served them so well since December. But that momentum wouldn’t be enough as Arlee began slowly narrowing that lead. 

“We were hitting some big shots from the three-point line,” says senior Daniel Kruer. “Then they made some changes and held us to passing and shooting, and kept us from making those threes in the second half.”

Twin Bridges juniors Bryce Nye and Jake Hughes would lead the Falcons with 13 points each, but Arlee’s Cody Tanner would score 10 points in the final quarter, and with just seconds to play it would be 51-48 with Arlee in the lead.

But then Kruer, who has been one of Twin Bridges’ top scorers all season long, sank the three-point shot that would tie the game. 

“I got the ball and just tuned everybody out,” he laughs. “It’s my senior year and I knew we were down by three. I thought, it’s the last shot I’ll ever take if we lose, and just kind of put up a hope and a prayer.” And his prayers were answered. They were tied 51-51.

Then, with just 1.8 seconds left in the game, Arlee was up for a free throw. After outscoring Twin Bridges 29-22 in the second half, Arlee had the cool when it counted, and Darshan Bolen would sink the single point that stood between Twin Bridges and the state championship.

The Falcons ended their season with one of the best records in school history, 24-2. 

Ranked fifth in the state heading into the divisional tournament, the only two losses they saw the entire season were to the two best teams in Class C basketball.

“It was a fight,” says head coach Josh Keller. “I thought we were very well prepared with a great game plan. Our guys came out and executed it very well. But Arlee plays great defense, and they made it really tough.”

From the very beginning of the season, Keller knew his team had what it takes to go all the way to the state tournament.

“From the pre-season and the work we put in, we knew we were a good team and definitely capable,” he says. “It’s one of those things that’s out there, but is it really realistic and achievable? But we were able to do it. For us to go through and beat all the teams we did just shows what these guys are made of and how tough they are.”

The Achilles heel on Wednesday night, Keller says, was the 13 points Twin gave up in rebounds. The Arlee Warriors will go on to play Scobey, the top seed out of the Eastern C division, on March 7 in Billings. Manhattan Christian will play Fairview, the second seed from the Eastern division, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that this year’s state title game will look much the same as last year’s, when Manhattan fell to Arlee by just eight points. 

But one thing’s for sure: The Falcons gave everything they had on Wednesday, just as they have all season. While it may be a bittersweet end for Kruer, who has played for Twin Bridges all four years of his high school career, Nye and Hughes will both return next year and they already have some goals.

“For sure one of them is to get to the state championship,” says Nye. “Knowing that Manhattan will still be as good as they are, all summer we’ll be working very hard. We want to not only make it to the state tournament but win it all.”

Arlee will also be making the jump to Class B next year, meaning it could be that much easier for Twin to take one of those two state qualifier spots. But they don’t care how easy it might be; for the Falcons, there are no excuses. Both Nye and Hughes will likely skip this spring’s track season in favor of additional basketball training to make sure they’re ready.

And if they’re able to pick up where they left off, there’s little doubt as to where the Falcons will be headed when the 2020 state tournament comes around. 

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