Wildcats 2nd at Class B State Tournament, Bring Home Hardware for the First Time in 20 Years

Wildcats win Overtime Thriller Over Eureka 63-61, LeValdo Scores Five in Final 0:14.2 • Harlem outlasts Lodge Grass 69-67 to advance to State B Championship

 

March 16, 2022

The Harlem Wildcat Boys Basketball Team was back at the Montana Class B Boys State Basketball Tournament this past weekend. The Tournament was played in conjunction with the Girls and was held at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the campus of Montana State University.

The last time the Wildcats took the floor at the Class B State basketball tournament was 15 years ago in 2007. Harlem finished fourth that year and last won the Class B Boys State Championship in 2002. This years team had their sights on bringing home some hardware.

When the dust settled the Wildcats had picked up a pair of thrilling wins. First they knocked off Eureka 63-61 in overtime, scoring five points in the final ten seconds to advance to the semifinal contest. There they knocked off the two time defending state champion Lodge Grass Indians 69-67, taking the lead in the final seconds. Saturday night they fought hard all game long and trailed in the fourth quarter but in the end they fell to the Three Forks Wolves 72-57 to finish second at the state tournament. Their second place finish marked the first time the Harlem boys have brought back hardware from the state tournament since 2002 when they last won it all.


They began the tournament Thursday night in the tournaments final game of day against the No. 2 Seed Eureka Vikings out of the Southern Division. Harlem controlled the tempo for much of the contest, leading by as much as 11 in the second quarter. Senior Tyler Cichosz scored down low off a nice double move to give the Wildcats a 26-15 lead with 4:21 left in the first half. The offense then went into a bit of a lull and couldn't get anything to fall. The Vikings were able to tie the game at 26-26 with just two seconds remaining in the half, making things interesting.


The Wildcats started strong in the third quarter and again built a nine point lead. Senior RJ Ramone broke the Viking defenders ankle on the way to the basket and a 38-29 Wildcat lead midway through the third quarter. The Vikings battled back and held a 53-51 lead late in the fourth quarter when junior Caleb Cole scored off an offensive rebound to even the score at 53-53 with just 0:40 remaining in regulation. Eureka had possession with time running down and made a strong move to the basket. Senior DeShon Shambo positioned himself perfectly and drew his fourth charge of the contest with three seconds remaining, sending the contest into overtime.


Despite the Wildcats leading for 25-24 in the contest it was the Vikings that held the lead late in overtime, 61-58. Shambo found senior Teagan LeValdo in the left corner and from their pandemonium broke out. The ball left LeValdo's hands with :14.2 remaining in overtime. The ball fell through the net and the Vikings scrambled to get the ball in play. Shambo made a great play on defense, poking the ball free where LeValdo secured it just shy of the free throw line and let a fourteen foot floater go that bounced high off the back of the rim and fell straight through with just four seconds left on a running clock.

The Vikings got the ball in, but time had expired before they could get a last second heave off giving the Wildcats an improbable 63-61 win. "Man, what an ending. I was thinking, man, twenty seconds left, we need a three," stated Head Coach Geno LeValdo." Ran a three point play, but it got broke halfway through and they kept going into the weave part. Then DeShon said when he caught the ball he seen Teagan had his feet set, and he threw a head shot fake to make the defense box out enough to free Teagan in the corner and boom he hit it."


The place went crazy and the Vikings were out of timeouts and quickly looked to inbound the ball, " The boys went into a press and DeShon's quickness and heads up 'D' tipped it out and right into Teagan's hands for the soft tear drop runner," said an excited LeValdo.

Shambo has been a defensive star all season. His relentless pressure kept one of the top scoring threats in the Northern B, Rocky Boy's Ben Crebs from even getting a shot off in the final ten seconds of the Wildcats semifinal win over the Stars that punched the Wildcats ticket to the state tournament.

"Deshon's 'D' is very intense and unforgiving! He takes at least 2-3 charges a game," stated LeValdo. "One of the most humble, unselfish team players we have. He encourages and brings the intensity to our defense every game. Very proud of my nephew, he's one of a kind."

The Wildcats were led on the night by Ramone with 17 points. Cichosz had a big game with 12 points, 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Cole finished with 13 points, nine boards and two blocks. Senior Daniel Lawrence added nine points and six assists. The thrilling come from behind win earned the Wildcats a spot in the semifinal Friday night against the two time defending Class B State Champions and top ranked Lodge Grass Indians.

Any team that has aspirations of playing in a state tournament at any level, in any state, undoubtedly has a roster filled with kids that have been playing competitively year around since they were in grade school. The Wildcats fill that bill, as do the Lodge Grass Indians.

Back to the days when many of the seniors and juniors for both teams were in third grade they have been competing against each other. "These boys have been playing each other since third, fourth grade," said LeValdo. "They were called War Party, and we were the Hi-line Outlaws. Those boys always seemed to get the Outlaws every time we met, 3 on 3, 5 on 5 they always seemed to beat the Outlaws by one or two points."

Heading into the semifinal with the Indians LeValdo used that as motivation, "So last night (Friday) I just told them that this is your night. I think Lodge Grass kind of sensed it. Normally in warm ups they go through with a ton of energy and last night they were different, had look about them and I think our boys knew they could get them."

Just before tip off LeValdo and the coaching staff reminded the kids of what their goal was, "I told them that this is our night we got 64 minutes of basketball left to reach our goal, win tonight and we got 32 minutes to finish it." The Brick Breeden Field house was packed and the atmosphere was electric. The Wildcats and Indians were ready to give the fans their monies worth and boy did they ever come through.

Start to finish the game was certainly one on the most entertaining played anywhere in the state and certainly lived up to the hype. The game was all knotted up at 21-21 after eight minutes of action and 37-37 at halftime. Both teams had an answer for the other, each time one team would string together a couple baskets the other would answer. The best scoring run the Indians had was eight in the second quarter while the Wildcats put together a long run of six in the first.

The action was non stop, the crowd stood on their feet for the majority of the game and the action on the floor was physical, even a bit chippy at times, but the quality of play was fantastic. Harlem held their biggest lead of the contest, five late in the first quarter while the Indians biggest lead, five came at the start of the second quarter. The game featured 11 lead changes and 16 ties with both teams having an edge on the scoreboard for more than 11 minutes, the remainder the teams were tied. In essence it was about as even of a game as any basketball fan could ever hope for.

Despite how good the game was and how even it was being played at, there had to be a winner and the ending was phenomenal. The final three minutes of any closely contested contest comes down to fundamentals, taking care of the ball, playing hard defense and making good decisions on offense. Every coach also knows that games are often decided at the free throw line.

Harlem closed out the game by converting three one and one opportunities into five of six shooting from the charity stripe. Lodge Grass however missed three front end free throws and were one of four from the line in the closing moments. Cole connected drained the front end and was nothing but net on his second attempt from the charity stripe to trim the Indian lead to 67-67 with 0:43.3 on the game clock. Following a Lodge Grass miss, the Wildcats secured the rebound leading to a Lodge Grass foul to send the Wildcats to the line. Lawrence knocked both attempts down with 0:24 remaining to give Harlem a 68-67 lead. Cole then drained another to provide the games final point and secure a 69-67 win.

Ramone again led the offense with 24 points on 9-14 shooting while also securing seven rebounds. LeValdo knocked down three huge bombs from beyond the arc and finished with 11 points on the night. Cichosz played a solid game as well for the Wildcats, scoring 11 points as well.

The atmosphere in the gym was incredible and the players could feel it, "We had a little crowd the first night, it wasn't as loud as it should have been and the kids got on social media and told everybody to show up and they did. Lodge grass always packs the house and we needed that on our side." The Wildcats effort to get fans in the building payed off and LeValdo was thrilled with the impact they had on the team, "Boy they (The Crowd) showed up! I think our crowd was louder than theirs and the boys really used it to their advantage. The crowd was our sixth man for sure,"

The Wildcats showed a ton of composure down the stretch and with the pressure on to come through, the Wildcats were comfortable in the moment, "It took a little while to gain that composure. Early in the season, we were in close games and we had this kind of daze about us, it took some time to get the kids to learn from that," stated LeValdo. "So those close games, tough losses, they learned how to handle those final moments and last night they were cool as a cucumber, they knew they we were gonna win. We were down five and Teagan (LeValdo) hits that three pointer and they were like yep here we go. After that first game it was like man it's destiny we were meant to be here, it's crazy."

The win secured the Wildcats spot in the Montana Class B Boys State Championship game for the first time since 2002. Their opponent the No, 2 Seed out of the Southern Division. The Three Forks Wolves (22-5). The teams one common opponent being the Lodge Grass Indians. In the Southern B Final the Indians clipped the Wolves 68-66.

Heading into the State Championship game, LeValdo had a message for his team, "We (The Coaching staff) have been telling them, one more, one more game. 32 minutes left, four eight minute quarters. Leave it all on the court and put everything you got into it. If in the end you come up short at least you will know you left it all out there."

Three Forks jumped out to a quick 14-3 lead early, but the Wildcats have been resilient all season long and were so again Saturday night. Lawrence took a cross court pass from Ramone and knocked down a triple to bring Harlem within three, 20-17. Three Forks held 34-27 advantage at the end of the first half and led 48-41 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats continued to fight back and after Shambo took a charge, Cole scored off an offensive rebound and moments later Cichosz did the same to bring Harlem within two, 52-50 with 4:51 remaining. Three Forks pushed the lead back to nine before Cole scored again to make the score 64-57. Harlem then lost three players to fouls and the Wolves knocked down free throws making the final, 72-57, a score that didn't reflect how close the game really was.

The Wildcats finished with four players in double figures. Lawrence led the Wildcats with 16 points while also dishing out 5 assists. Cichosz had a solid game, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds including six on the offensive end. Cole finished with 11 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats and Ramone added 10.

The Wildcat's second place finish gave the program their first piece of hardware from the State Boys Class B Basketball Tournament for the first time since 2002 and capped an outstanding season for a team that fought through a and overcame many obstacles along the way.

After all was said and done LeValdo was excited to reflect on what his team accomplished, "This weekend we had one of the most exciting Class B games we have seen in a awhile. Down by three with :23 seconds left to Eureka, to come back and win it was epic! The next night we knew we faced a solid squad in Lodge Grass, led by my brother Josh Stuart, the two time class B state champions."

The semifinal Friday night had everyone in the building and many more watching all around the state on the edge of their seats, "Oh that game, it was a battle from the beginning, pretty much what the whole State wanted to see and it didn't disappoint," stated LeValdo. "Daniel Lawrence and Caleb Cole hit some big free throws to get us the win!"

Heading into the state championship LeValdo said, "We met Three Forks on Saturday night, also a solid squad. They got the lead early and we battle within two-points late but unfortunately three of my starters fouled out and we ended up losing and placing second. Overall our boys were complimented on how classy they were and how furious they played."

LeValdo was thankful for everyone who was a part of the weekend in anyway, "Our crowd was awesome! We also got very good compliments on them. A lot people had good thing to say about Harlem. It was a honor coaching these boys who had been dreaming of this moment since they were in third grade. You can see the skill and savvy they have, and the composure and passion for this game."

What the Wildcats did on the court extends beyond the end line, "They planted a lot of seeds in the younger Harlem generation, because they are talking what they're gonna do when they get there!! I'm so proud of these boys, it's beyond words.

Senior RJ Ramone scores over the top of the Lodge Grass defense Friday night. Ramone finished with 24 points in the thrilling 69-67 win over the two time defending state champions.

 
 

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