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Furious comeback: Arlee takes fourth in State Tournament

by Brandon Hansen / For The Leader
| March 14, 2024 12:00 AM

Arlee found itself short one shot in the Class B State Tournament third-place game against Lodge Grass. The Warriors posted one of the most impressive comebacks in state history, trailing by 21 points with four and a half minutes left in the game.

“We were super happy to be playing on Saturday against a fun Lodge Grass team,” Arlee head coach Jason Maki said. “We went back and forth but got down in the third quarter and then had a furious comeback.”

Arlee went on a 24-4 run, but Lodge Grass (22-5) held on for the 78-77 victory on Saturday, March 9, in Billings. Arlee placed fourth in the state tournament, capping off one wild weekend of Warriors basketball. It was Arlee’s first trophy from state since placing third in the Class C Tournament in 2019.

“We had a shot to come back, and our kids played hard right up to the final second,” Maki said. “I just think the kids didn’t really want to lose.”

Arlee switched its defense and turned up the full-court press, which caused Lodge Grass to lose its composure.

“They got discombobulated, threw some balls out of bounds, and missed some free throws, and we were able to take it back and score,” Maki explained. “It was super intense, fun, and our crowd was loud.”

Ben Harlow-Old Person led Arlee with 35 points, his season-high point total. Old-Person finished with 105 points at the tournament and 622 points for the entire 2023-24 season. He was the leading scorer of the state tournament.

“The best thing about Denny is he is always ready to play,” Maki said. “He had the speed and can drive, but his specialty is also that pull-up jumper.”

Arlee came into the third-place game having won two games in the consolation bracket – including an 84-point outburst against Red Lodge.

The Warriors led 13-9 after one quarter but trailed 37-28 at halftime. Lodge Grass extended its advantage to 12 more points in the third quarter.

Arlee’s Kendall O’Neill scored 14 points, while Jake Knoll added 11. Kaiden Ostby and Jace Arca each had seven points.

The Warriors finished the season 22-7

Arlee outscores Poplar 57-44

Arlee advanced to the third-place game with a 57-44 victory on Popular on Saturday. The Warriors outscored Poplar by 10 points in the final quarter for the victory.

“I just spoke facts and said, ‘hey if we lose, we’re done, our season is over,’” Maki said. “Our team has nine seniors and they really didn’t want that. They wanted to keep playing.”

Ben Harlow-Old Person led Arlee with 27 points, while Kendall O’Neill added 15.

The Warriors led 15-8 after the first quarter and 23-21 at halftime. After a close third quarter, Arlee pulled away in the fourth quarter.

Maki explained that the team took a step-by-step approach and kept the next game in front of them.

“We talked about making it to the next day, and even after a setback, we focused on the path we had to take, and they definitely wanted to keep playing,” Maki said.

Arlee downs Red Lodge 84-54

Arlee posted its second-highest point total of the season, downing Red Lodge 84-54 in the Class B State Tournament consolation bracket on Friday, March 8.

“Red Lodge was a really good team, and they won their division,” Maki said. “I’ve had a lot of games in the consolation bracket and told the team these morning games typically go to the team that wants it most.”

The Warriors got started quickly, scoring 25 points in the first quarter to take a 43-28 halftime lead. Arlee pushed that advantage to 24 points in the third quarter and cruised to victory.

Ben Harlow-Old Person led Arlee with 24 points, Jace Arca added 13 points, and Kaiden Ostby had 12. Kendall O’Neill was the fourth Warrior in double-digits with 10 points, while Ethan Fiddler nearly reached that with nine points.

Tourney opens with loss to Fairview

Facing up against the North’s No. 1 seed, third-seeded Arlee led at halftime but eventually fell to Fairview 52-47 in its Class B State Basketball Tournament opener on Thursday.

Arlee led 26-24 at halftime, but Fairview took the lead in the third quarter and outscored the Warriors in the fourth by four points.

Ben Harlow-Old Person led Alree with 19 points, Jace Arca had eight, and Dallas Swab added seven.

Fairview would go on to place second at the state tournament.

“We look at that Fairview game, and who knows, we could have ended up in the state championship game if we had won,” Maki said. “It was an awesome experience, and we had so much fun and many great memories. It was intense during the entire tournament and the funny thing is, we could have lost out at divisionals but ended up placing at state.”

Arlee was a senior-laden team, and while Harlow-Old Person poured on the points, many Warriors made big impacts.

“Jake Knoll was big on the boards and scoring inside,” Maki said. “Darius Tewawina would have a big steal, Kaiden Ostby would have a stretch of play in here. Dallas Swab would do something big, or Ethan Fiddler would hit an important shot.”

Maki said the team has been practicing or playing games five to six days a week during the season, and that was a great experience going through the year with these players.

“I teach at the school, and I think the biggest thing was seeing the guys in the hall and us being kind of sad that we don’t get to practice,” Maki said. “That is a neat thing and says something about this team. They are just a wonderful group of men with different personalities. The Arlee community was so supportive, and it was a great experience for all of us.”

Arlee will have to replace nine seniors from this year's teams, meaning young players will have to step up. Ostby and Tewawina will return with their big-impact play, while young guys who got to experience this season, like Aiden Swab, River Grey and Gavin Sweeney, will be part of a new wave of players coming through the program.

“We’re going to be young and have to put in some work in the spring, summer and fall on the court and in the weight room,” Maki said. “The beauty of high school is you can see a sophomore step up and a player grow in height by five to six inches over the summer. For us to succeed next year, those young players will be the ones to step up.”

Thursday, March 7

FAIRVIEW 52, ARLEE 47

Arlee - 10 - 16 - 11 - 10 - 47

Fairview - 10 - 13 - 15 - 14 - 52

ARLEE SCORING - Ben Harlow-Old Person 19, Jace Arca 8, Dallas Swab 7, Kendall O’Neill 6, Ethan Fiddler 3, Kaiden Ostby 2, Jake Knoll 2

Friday, March 8

ARLEE 84, RED LODGE 54

Arlee - 25 - 18 - 23 - 18 - 84

R-Lodge - 12 - 16 - 14 - 12 - 54

ARLEE SCORING - Ben Harlow-Old Person 24, Jace Arca 13, Kaiden Ostby 12, Kendall O’Neill 10, Ethan Fiddler 9, Jake Knoll 8, Darius Tewawina 4, Dallas Swab 2, Kenneth Manzanares 2

Saturday, March 9

ARLEE 57, POPLAR 44

Poplar - 8 - 13 - 12 - 11 - 44

Arlee - 15 - 8 - 13 - 21 - 57

ARLEE SCORING - Ben Harlow-Old Person 27, Kendall O’Neill 15, Jake Knoll 6, Ethan Fiddler 3, Kaiden Ostby 2, Dallas Swab 2, Jace Arca 2

Saturday, March 9

LODGE GRASS 78, ARLEE 77

L-Grass - 9 - 28 - 29 - 12 - 78

Arlee - 13 - 15 - 17 - 32 - 77

ARLEE SCORING - Ben Harlow-Old Person 35, Kendall O’Neill 14, Jake Knoll 10, Kaiden Ostby 7, Jace Arca 7, Tavin Lapahie 2, Darius Tewawina 1, Ethan Fiddler 1

    Two sets of Warriors – Arlee and Fairview – battle it out during the first round of the Boys Class B State High School Basketball Championships on March 7 in Billings. (Kenneth Jarecke/The Curious Society