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Randy Stobb gave the Sister Rita Activities Center gym floor one last sweep Wednesday - the last time this season anyway.

Stobb's team slowly trickled in as he pushed the broom from sideline to sideline.

First it was senior Alex Lamey who arrived, nearly 20 minutes early - good thing, too, because she forgot some socks. Fellow senior Jordan Pfau strolled toward the locker room several minutes later and senior Emma Priddy appeared shortly after followed by the rest of the Loyola Sacred Heart girls' basketball team.

Minutes later basketballs were bouncing, girls were giggling and shots were sailing through the air.

The Breakers were having their final practice of the season and for the seniors, their last basketball practice of their high school careers.

"It's kind of sad," Lamey said, "but you can't really let it get to you. We have one weekend ahead of us. We'll be sad afterward."

That weekend is the State B tournament, which begins Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Belgrade Special Events Center when top-ranked and undefeated Malta (23-0) takes on Three Forks. Third-ranked Loyola, which boasts a 22-1 record, plays at 2:30 p.m. against newcomer No. 7 Manhattan Christian. Columbus (16-7), the top seed from the south, faces fifth-ranked Choteau at 7 p.m. and two-time defending champion and second-ranked Fairfield (21-2) squares off against No. 8 Bigfork (20-4) in the nightcap.

The Breakers have been in a rut at state the last two seasons. Last year they lost to Huntley Project in the first round and Big Timber in consolation play for an early exit.

The year before, they lost their opener as well. This coming on the heels of two of the most successful seasons ever strung together in Montana high school girls' basketball.

In 2006, Loyola cruised to its first ever title, finishing the season a perfect 26-0. In 2007, the victories kept coming until the state semifinals where Loyola watched its historic 53-game winning streak end abruptly at the hands of Shepherd. The Breakers settled for fourth that year.

It's a tough past to stack up against, but the three seniors this year say they can lead their team into contention for another state title. They all plan on playing the last game of the season on Saturday night.

"Overall we just need to be more aggressive than last year," said Pfau, who nets 9.3 points per game. "We didn't come out with as much fire as we should have last season to get the job done."

Priddy said the past couple years of playing basketball and volleyball have brought the 10 seniors and juniors on the team much closer. Most play both sports.

"We're ready to play together and we've proved we're way better than last year," she said. "It's always expected that we're going to win, but this time I think we can."

The balanced Breakers, who are led in scoring by junior Alex Anderson's 14 points per game, are coming off a 42-41 win against Bigfork in the Western B divisional championship on Feb. 27. Their only loss this year came from Class A Columbia Falls on Jan. 23.

"We're happy with where we are at and how we've done the things we've needed to put us where we are, now we're just going to go over there and take it one game at a time," Loyola's second-year coach Stobb said.

Fairfield and Malta are the two favorites in the field. Fairfield defeated the M-Ettes 56-47 in the title tilt last season and topped Whitehall the year before. Malta took home the hardware in 2007.

"They don't rebuild, they definitely just reload over there," Bigfork coach Mark Hansen said.

The Northern B champion M-Ettes and Southern B runner-up Three Forks are the only teams to have beaten Fairfield the past two seasons.

Malta, led by senior guard Bobbi Knudsen (18 ppg), defeated Fairfield 47-39 in the divisional title game last weekend and won in 2008 as well. The Wolves edged the Eagles 45-42 before Christmas.

Fairfield is led by senior Cortney Kinna (16 ppg).

Hansen said his girls are rested, but without controlling the tempo against the Eagles, it could go sour quickly.

"We have to be able to get some stops in the half-court," he said. "We need to try and create turnovers and get running."

The Vals, a year removed from the State A tournament, will be without sophomore 3-point shooter Taylor Peck, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in one of her knees in the Western B divisional tournament.

As for the Breakers and that final practice.

"We're having fun before we get out there and have to be serious, well ... we will still have fun, but have a more focused mind set," Pfau said. "I would expect us to be there Saturday night."

NOTES: Loyola is making its eighth straight state appearance. ... District 5-B champion Manhattan Christian is making its first ever trip to the State B tournament after moving up from Class C in 2003. It defeated Shepherd 33-28 in overtime for the third spot from the south. ... District 7-B Bigfork, which moved back down to Class B this year, is making its fourth straight state showing. ... Choteau is making its first ever State B appearance. ... In the last six games, opponents have managed just 25.8 points per outing against the Malta defense.

 

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