The Fairfield boys basketball team made history Friday, March 13, being named Class B boys basketball state co-champions for 2020.
The Eagles are sharing the honor with Lodge Grass. The two Class B teams were undefeated at the state tournament, having won their respective semifinal contests and were slated to play in the championship game.
For the first time that anyone can recall, officials at the Montana High School Association said basketball co-champions would be named for boys and girls teams in all classifications. The MHSA executive board canceled the final day of the four state tournaments late Friday upon receiving notification from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of four known cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the state.
According to Mark Beckman, MHSA’s executive director, the association approved holding the tournaments, which started on March 12, as there were no known cases of the coronavirus in the state. Beckman said they were in close contact with the CDC throughout the tournament and upon the announcement of known cases — especially given three cases were in counties where tournaments were held — MHSA agreed to cancel the remainder of the tournament games.
With Lodge Grass dominating Class B basketball in the 1980s and Fairfield in the 1990s and part of the 2000s, it would have been fun start to a new decade with two of the best from previous years playing the championship. Fairfield hasn’t brought home hardware since 2009 and for Lodge Grass, it has been 30 years.
At the state tournament, the Eagles defeated Colstrip in their opening game, 64-42. The victory set up the match with Three Forks in the semifinal game. The Eagles won that game, 58-39.
Fairfield came out hot in the opening quarter of the tournament against Colstrip. They outscored the Colts 23-10. They continued to roll in the second quarter, sinking 17 points to Colstrip’s eight. The second half score was even for both quarters with each team scoring nine points in the third and 15 in the fourth.
The first quarter of the semifinal contest against Three Forks was a back-and-forth event, but ended with Eagles ahead 14-11 after Conor Murray buried a half-court shot in the final seconds.
The two teams battled point for point in the second half, with Fairfield leading 24-21 at the half. Fairfield outscored Three Forks 16-7 in the third quarter and 18-11 to final eight minutes to win the contest.
Fairfield senior Keeley Bake led the team in scoring with in both games, scoring 21 points against Colstrip with 11 rebounds and 17 points against Three Forks, grabbing 10 rebounds. Also in double figures scoring in the Colstrip game were Kaelob Flores with 11 points and Owen Cartwright with 10. Flores and Gavin Mills were also in double figures in the game against Three Forks, with 10 points each.
Following the victory, Bake said it was kind of crazy, not being there since 2012 and not bringing home any hardware since 2009. He said it felt very satisfying to have all the hard work paid off.
“I’m very excited to share the experience,” he said. “These are people that you will know for the rest of your life. This is a great memory that we will be able to talk about for a long time.”
When asked if the team was disappointed at not playing the final game with Lodge Grass, Bake said, “It is what it is about sharing a championship, still a great accomplishment for both teams. … Everyone was excited to watch that game Saturday night”
“This has been our team’s goal for a long time,” Bake said. “Everyone playing high school sports has dreamed of winning a championship. From losing out the past two years with heartbreaking games, it feels good that we could finally get over the hump that had been dragging on for so long.”
Eagles head coach Jordan Ratliff said he couldn’t believe that the season was over. “It went by so fast, but they always say time goes by fast when you’re having fun,” he added.
“From the beginning of the season we had a goal to just keep getting better and be prepared for tournament time,” the coach said. “We knew what it was going to take and just narrowly missing out the previous two seasons kept us motivated daily.”
Ratliff said he thought it was the team’s defense that won them the ball games against Three Forks and Colstrip. “For eight quarters, I felt we played some of the best defense we had played all season and held some really good teams and scorers to below-average numbers,” Ratliff said. “It was a team effort by all 14 guys I have on my bench. whether that being the guys who help motivate and keep energy positive on the bench to the guys who get lots of minutes.”
“I knew we weren’t going to be playing in a state championship game before our game started,” Ratliff said. “I actually thought we weren’t going to be able to even get our semifinal game, from what I was told pregame. I didn’t share this information with the boys because I didn’t want it to affect their play. They came out and took care of business again and beat a very good team in Three Forks.
As a member of the 2009 state team who won the title in Butte, Ratliff said, “Oh man, being down in Butte and staying at the same hotel and the way this team was playing reminded me of our (his and Fairfield assistant coach’s Aaron Barnett, was also a member of that team) state championship run. We were all just having a ton of fun and the boys played for each other and that’s how we played back then.”
“It was a bittersweet end for us and though I don’t agree with how it ended, as I would have loved to have played Lodge Grass, we have to live with the decisions the MHSA made and make the best out of the situation,” Ratliff said. “We made the state championship game and just weren’t able to play in it. That is something very special. The boys have dedicated countless hours in the gym and summer basketball hours to get to where we got this season, and they have so much to celebrate. I couldn’t be more proud of them and of how hard they worked to achieve those championships.”
Ratliff also praised the community support, which he says is absolutely amazing, and his assistant coach. “He deserves just as much credit as I do,” Ratliff said. “He makes my job a lot easier and I wouldn’t be doing this without him alongside me.” He also gave a shout out to his wife, Kelsey, for her constant support and patience.
The Eagles lose two seniors in Bake and Gaice Blackwell graduating. “They have now set the bar high for the future generations of eagles. I love them to death and they will be greatly missed,” said Ratliff. “I look forward to next year to try and go back to back.”
Fairfield 23-17-9-15 — 64
Colstrip 10-8-9-15 — 42
Fairfield — Conor Murray 2 0/0 4, Keeley Bake 7 6/9 21, Guidry Giles 1 0/0 3, Gavin Mills 2 0/0 4, Kaelob Flores 5 1/1 11, Gaice Blackwell 1 0/0 3, Daniel Faith 3 1/2 7, Owen Cartwright 5 0/1 10, Bryden Batson 0 1/2 1. Totals: 26 9/15.
Colstrip — Jaydell Littleaxe 0 0/1 0, JT Baer 2 2/4 6, Corbin Small-Fisher 0 3/6 3, Memphis Keplin 3 0/0 8, Logan Vocu 0 2/2 2, Rilee Small-Fisher 1 2/2 4, Sam Wheatley 2 0/0 4, Caleb Wheatley 2 3/5 7, Caleb Cole 3 2/4 8. Totals: 13 14/24.
Fouls: Fairfield 17, Colstrip 16. Fouled out: none. Three-point goals: Bake, Giles, Blackwell, Keplin 2.
Fairfield 14-10-16-18 — 58
Three Forks 11-10-7-11 — 39
Fairfield — Conor Murray 3 1/4 8, Keeley Bake 6 5/6 17, Gavin Mills 4 0/0 10, Kaelob Flores 5 0/1 10, Gaice Blackwell 0 1/2 1, Daniel Faith 3 0/0 6, Owen Cartwright 2 0/0 4, Cooper Christensen 1 0/0 2. Totals: 24 7/13.
Three Forks — Michaiah Hauser 6 4/4 17, Owen Long 0 1/2 1, Zach Pitcher 3 0/0 8, Dustin Dalke 4 0/0 9, Austin Allen 1 0/3 2, Antonio Boggio 1 0/0 2. Totals: 15 5/9.
Fouls: Fairfield 13, Three Forks 8. Fouled out: none. Three-point goals: Murray, Mills 2, Hauser, Pitcher 2, Dalke.