The Daily Inter Lake
BELGRADE — Back-to-back for Bigfork.
The Vikings (22-2) repeated as Class B state boys basketball champions on Friday evening with a thrilling 47-43 comeback victory over Missoula Loyola at the Belgrade Special Events Center.
“Second year in a row, senior year, our group is so close,” senior guard Anders Epperly said.
Missoula Loyola (20-5) closed within four twice in the late going, 43-39 and 45-41, and a last gasp had the Rams down by just two, 45-43, with under a minute to play, but the Vikings responded each time to stay on top.
Logan Gilliard’s field goal at 2:35 remaining had Bigfork in front 45-39. That was also the last field goal of the game for the Vikings.
Senior forward Colton Reichenbach sank two free throws with 26.7 seconds left to seal the deal and complete the scoring.
“He was clutch,” Epperly said of Reichenbach.
Bigfork went on a 17-2 run in the third quarter to take the upper hand. A Luke Schmit field goal broke a 30-all tie, giving Bigfork the lead for good at 32-30.
The Vikings led only one other time, 1-0 to start the game on a free throw by Epperly.
Senior guard Randy Stultz helped spark the second half turnaround with his stellar defensive play and key steals.
“It was awesome,” Stultz said.
“We fought hard the entire game, never gave up.”
Stultz said the team didn’t panic, despite a rough first half.
“We knew our shots would eventually drop,” he said.
“We never gave in, knew they would fall. We kept working hard, knew it would go our way.”
Clayton Reichenbach, who kept Bigfork close in the first half with 12 points, finished with a team-high 14.
Logan Gilliard added 13 for Bigfork.
Colton Reichenbach finished with six, along with Epperly and Schmit.
Stultz accounted for the other two points.
Jack Lincoln topped Loyola with 16 points. Cooper Waters followed with 10.
This marked the fourth meeting of the season for the two Western B rivals and was a rematch of their divisional championship game on Feb. 23 in Ronan, which was also won by Bigfork, 53-43.
In regular-season matchups, Bigfork won at Loyola on Dec. 18, 70-65, while Loyola won at Bigfork on Jan. 26, 68-57. The Vikings never lost after that.
It was the fourth title game for Bigfork in six years and the third for the team’s seven seniors.
The Vikings beat Columbus 71-62 in the 2014 championship game, and last year dropped Shelby 60-56 in the final en route to a 24-0 record.
Bigfork lost to Choteau for the championship in 2016, 67-59.
This was Loyola’s first championship appearance since a 74-57 loss to Choteau in 2015.
“This is really crazy,” Stultz said of the past two seasons.
“Two state championships is awesome. Most people may only get to experience one, we’re spoiled, very lucky. We got to do it twice. All that ends well is good.”
Missoula Loyola 15 10 5 13 — 43
Bigfork 6 13 17 11 — 47
MISSOULA LOYOLA — Jack Lincoln 16, Cooper Waters 10, Jacob Hollenback 7, Charles Burns 6, Liam Haffey 2, Ryan Tirrell 2.
BIGFORK — Clayton Reichenbach 14, Logan Gilliard 13, Colton Reichenbach 6, Anders Epperly 6, Luke Schmit 6, Randy Stultz 2.