In Polson’s third-place finish at the Class A boys’ basketball state tournament last spring, the Pirates never faced the eventual state champion, Dillon.
The boys from the Northwest A certainly didn’t envision a season-opening 66-44 loss when they finally got to see how’d they fare against the Beavers on Friday at the Northwest A/Southwest A Tip-off Tournament.
Dillon showed it's still the team to beat in Class A.
“They’re all pretty quick and they play great defense,” Polson’s Matthew Rensvold said. “They’re just disciplined and they always get after it -- it’s fun to play them.”
The Beavers were first to break out of a first-quarter funk that plagued both teams in the opening minutes at the University of Montana's West Auxiliary Gym. After 4 minutes in the books, each team had more turnovers than points in a 2-2 tie.
Tanner Haverfield, who finished with a game-high 21 points for Dillon, single-handedly gave the scorekeeper some work after that, though. He scored 11 of his team’s 13 first-quarter points, including a 3-pointer to make it 9-2 with 2:50 left in the opening frame.
“He’s definitely dangerous, he’s put a ton of time in the gym, and his hard work is paying off for him,” Troy Andersen, Dillon’s do-everything forward, said of Haverfield.
Polson got two quick buckets to start the second quarter, pulling within two, 13-11, and Dillon’s coach Terry Thomas wanted a timeout. The break in action was just the spell each team’s shooters needed.
After Polson’s Jaydon Bautista buried two free throws to tie the game, 13-13, Michael Haverfield drilled a 3-pointer to give Dillon the lead.
Bautista came back to tie it again with a 3-pointer of his own, but Tanner Haverfield hit his second of the game to put Dillon up for good, 19-16. One of Polson’s two Griz football recruits, Tanner Wilson, hit one of his two free throws on the other end to make it 19-17.
Then came Dillon’s trademark defense, starting with its stingy 1-3-1 zone. Polson managed just three more points in the quarter, as Dillon finished the half from there on a 15-3 run to take a 34-20 lead into the break.
“They did a good job mixing it up. Sometimes they’d come down in their 1-3-1, next time they’d come down in man,” Polson coach Randy Kelley said. “...It was our point guard's first game. I guarantee he’s going to get better (handling the pressure defense), so it’s something we just need to work on.”
Andersen, a Montana State football recruit, had six of his 20 points in the stretch. He tried for a monster dunk in the lane that the Polson defense simply wasn’t going to allow. Andersen made both of his two free throws -- all six of his points in the quarter came at the line -- and the defending state champs never trailed again.
The Pirates twice closed the second-half deficit to 10 points, thanks to gritty play in the paint from Rensvold, Polson’s other Griz football recruit. The 6-foot-4 senior finished with a team-high 18 points, trading blows with Dillon’s Andersen at the blocks.
“He’s just a strong kid, he has great hands and it’s hard to move him once he gets position…I’m looking forward to competing against him in the future,” Andersen said of Rensvold and the eventual meeting between the two on the gridiron.
Andersen won this brawl, though, opting for a layup with 3:49 left in the game to put Dillon up, 60-40. Round 1 between two projected state title contenders went overwhelmingly Dillon’s way.
“We don’t get to see them during the season and then we might match up in the divisional tournament, so it’s just nice to get a feel for ‘em,” coach Thomas said. “Any time you have a competitive group of players they would like to play good competitive teams and Polson is obviously a very good team.”
Dillon’s Jamey Richardson scored eight points and was next in total scoring after Haverfield and Andersen.
Polson’s J’von Johnson joined Bautista with seven points. Wilson finished with five for the Pirates.
Polson faces Corvallis, which lost to Frenchtown on Friday, in Saturday's action. The two tip off at 6 p.m. Dillon draws Whitefish on Saturday at 11 a.m.