BUTTE — Down 10 points after the first quarter to Scobey in the State C boys' basketball tournament semifinals, the defending champion Arlee Warriors weren’t worried.
They might be sick, like guard Phillip Malatare, who played every second, despite throwing up during one timeout. Or they might be sore, like Greg Whitesell, who played through quite a bit of pain in his leg.
The Warriors are mentally tough and it helped lead them to a 76-71 win over the Spartans.
“We kept talking, ‘Greg, you don’t have a leg right now, separate it, separate the leg, you don’t feel the pain,’ ‘Phil, you are not sick, separate it, mentally separate those things from your body,”’ Arlee head coach Zanen Pitts said. “And they did. We’ve talked about that with them for years. It’s something we’ve all been brought up with, separating the pain, separating the emotion.
“Getting it away from you so you can focus on the task at hand and so you can execute down the stretch.”
Down by six at halftime, the Warriors outscored the Spartans by 18 points in the third quarter. Scobey was able to respond in the final minutes of the game, cutting the lead to three with under 30 seconds left.
Arlee, however, just wouldn’t let the win slip away. Malatare dropped 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting while also grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out four assists. Will Mesteth added 18 points and Greg Whitesell had 14.
The Warriors missed the front end of two one-and-one’s late while ahead by a single possession, but were able to get an offensive rebound on the first and then held on defense after the second.
CJ Nelson led Scobey, which suffered its first loss of the season, with 22 points. Arlee remained undefeated and will play in the state title game.
“I just wanted to coach from the beginning and be a good AAU coach for my son and now I’m here,” Pitts said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s a surreal opportunity. We’re bringing it (Saturday). That game we just had, we don’t talk about it the minute we leave the locker room.
“We talk 100 percent about the team that we’re going to play.”
Arlee will play Manhattan Christian for two years in a row to determine the Class C state title. That game will tip at 8 p.m.