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STEVENSVILLE — After Missoula Sentinel's 78-42 win against Stevensville Friday night and after the handshakes and the locker room talks, Stevi's Colby Meeds found his parents before a postgame interview. There, Meeds gave some high praise to his opponent.

"They're tall, they're fast — I think they may be better than last year," the Stevensville senior told his parents pre-interview and before running over to congratulate some of the Spartans in a gesture of goodwill.

Meeds explained what exactly made the Spartans — qualifiers to last year's Class AA state basketball tournament — so tough against his Class A squad in the teams' nonconference season opener.

"They're just a long team, they can really get after the rebounds — we really got out-rebounded tonight," Meeds said. 

That advantage on the boards paid dividends early for Sentinel. Neil Daily had five offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone for the Spartans, who built a 20-8 lead in the game's first eight minutes.

Daily, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, finished with a double-double at 10 points and 10 rebounds for the game.

"We've really harped on that for the last two weeks: Crash the boards, crash the boards," Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said. "We've got some length, we've got some tall kids, so we might as well use it."

Not to be outdone, 6-foot-5 Sentinel senior Scott Malikie nearly reached double digits in rebounds and finished with a game-high 19 points, eight coming in Sentinel's 29-point second quarter, as the Spartans built a 49-27 lead at the break.

Midway through the frame, Malikie cleaned up his own miss, scored on the put-back and was fouled, helping build Sentinel's lead to 38-20.

Daily's ninth rebound — another on the offensive end — and bucket came one possession later, pushing Sentinel's lead to 40-20.

"We've just been working hard all offseason on boxing out and squaring up to the rim," Malikie explained of the team's rebounding prowess. "Anything I can do to help — rebounds, dish out the ball. We're more team-based this year, so we just dish the ball around, share it a little more and it should work out."

The Yellowjackets battled all game, though, and they employed a more fast-paced offense in the second quarter that coach Tony Anderson said will be an area of emphasis going forward. Stevi scored 19 points in the second frame, 11 coming from Meeds.

Meeds was a perfect 7-for-7 shooting from the free-throw line in the period, and the senior finished with a team-high 16 points.

"...Colby is going to have a great year, he's a leader on the basketball team and the heartbeat of this team. We usually go as he goes," coach Anderson said.

Sentinel's length was too much to overcome for Stevensville, though. Malikie added six rebounds himself in the second half, and 6-foot-6 sophomore Alex Germer scored just moments into the third period on a wide-open find down low. He and a teammate smiled to each other afterward, seeming to gesture that Germer might have had an opportunity for a dunk.

Slam or not, Germer finished with 16 points for the game, and fellow sophomore Tony Frohlich-Fair (he's 6-foot-5) added 10 more points for the Spartans.

"...This team, we're young, but there's a lot of potential there," Jagelski said. "We're just trying to put them in positions where they can score and make some decisions on their own. They did that pretty well at times tonight, but there were times where we didn't do so well, so we have to improve."

Fortunately — for both squads — it's just Game 1 of the regular season. Sentinel takes the court again for Game 2 Friday against Billings Skyview.

For Stevensville, which will turn around and board a bus at 8:30 a.m. Saturday to take on Columbia Falls, Logan Roth and Devlin Sherman each scored nine points. Stevi's Ivan Yazvac added eight more points, making it a quartet of Stevi seniors in the scoring column.

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