BUTTE — There were less than 2 minutes to play in the State C boys' basketball championship.
Coming out of a timeout, Arlee’s Greg Whitesell motioned toward his teammates, reminding them of something. One minute and 46 seconds was the exact same "good" time for a drill they did, called "17’s."
It was a reminder. And over those final 106 seconds, the Warriors were able to pull away from Manhattan Christian, beating the Eagles 66-58.
It was win No. 55 in a row, one shy of the state record, and Arlee’s second-straight title.
“I was just telling those guys it was one more of those, we’ve got one more to do,” Whitesell said. “It paid off, I guess. I’m speechless. It’s all glory to God.”
Despite an early surge from the Eagles, the Warriors seemed to have control of the game most of the way through. A deep, arching 3-pointer from Will Mesteth off a beautifully executed play at the very end of the second quarter put an exclamation point on the first half.
The shot put Arlee up by seven at halftime.
“Every time (Mesteth) hits a three, it motivates us,” fellow Arlee senior Phillip Malatare said. “It gets us going. Every time we can strike a three, put one in, it boosts our energy.”
Mesteth and Malatare each had 18 points for the Warriors, who finished the season at a perfect 26-0. Malatare added 14 rebounds, five assists and four steals while Mesteth added seven rebounds.
Isaac Fisher and Lane Johnson each finished with double figures as well. Fisher scored 14 points and added six rebounds. Johnson tallied 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Eagles managed to keep the game close and went on runs during the third and fourth quarter that got the game to within a single possession. Manhattan Christian, however, could never quite get the stop or momentum shot it needed to take the lead.
Caleb Bellach led the Eagles with 27 points on 9-of-25 shooting. Matthew Amunrud was the only other Eagle in double figures.
“Gosh, those are a good group of boys,” Arlee head coach Zanen Pitts said of Manhattan Christian. “It’s a phenomenal program.”
It was an emotional and meaningful win for the Warriors, who recently made a video that went viral raising awareness for suicide, which has rocked their community.
“For us to raise awareness about suicide, it’s amazing for us to be able to use our platform to speak about it,” Whitesell said. “We’re trying to talk about something that really doesn’t want to be spoken about and that’s amazing.”