The Seeley Swan Blackhawks, in perhaps their finest hour of a long season, watched their hopes for a State Class B trip vanish in a split second when a Loyola freshman dropped a two-pointer at the buzzer, ending overtime play Monday night with the scoreboard reading 57-55.
In that split second, Loyola earned the right to advance to the state tournament in Great Falls this weekend, and the Blackhawk season came to an end, with players and fans in the throws of adrenalin rushes seconds beforestunned by the sudden ending of a game that appeared headed for a second overtime after the Blackhawks tied it up 55-55 on a two-pointer by Bobby Clark.
Loyola and Seeley Lake fans had packed half of the large Sentinel High School stadium to watch the Blackhawks, who had struggled back through the consolation bracket in the double-elimination Divisional tournament, challenge second-place Loyola in the fourth meeting between the two teams this year.
Loyola, 20-3 before the game and with three previous wins over the Hawks, were the decided favorites, but the underdog Hawks, 14-10 in their first season moving up from Class C to Class B play, posed a potential threat to anyone with an unpredictable ability for sensational play at any time.
That time came in the second half when the Hawks, scoreless from the field in the second quarter and seemingly worn down by Loyola's relentless full court press and a fast-paced, running offense, regained their composure to overcome a 31-16 halftime deficit late in the fourth period, posting a 46-45 lead.
From there on, the lead changed frequently by one or two points, with regulation play ending in 49-49 tie, and the following overtime characterized by a similar exchange of leads.
The Hawks played the last few minutes of regulation play and all overtime play without their tallest player, senior James Webb, who fouled out with 15 points.
The Loyola challenge was characterized by a strong team effort, with three Hawks in double figures, and other Hawks coming through at key points. Besides Webb's 15 points, Matt Schneiter led with with 17 and Bobby Clark had 13. Lelan Anders added a crucial 7, with Chris Auchenback and Cameron Gamache adding 2 and 1, respectively.
The Hawks, second behind Loyola in 5-B District Tournament play the week before, fell to Thompson Falls in first round Divisional play last Thursday, then battled back with wins over Florence, Eureka, and Troy to earn the challenge right.
Thompson Falls broke a halftime tie, 24-24, in the third period and held on to upset the Hawks 50-44. Shooting only 37 percent, the Hawks just couldn't find the range. Though James Webb scored 18, Seeley's leading scorer, Matt Schneiter, managed only 10. Bobby Clark accounted for 9, Matt Nessan 3, Chris Auchenbach and Lelan Anders 2 each.
Against Florence last Friday, the Hawks broke away from a third quarter 38-38 tie, outscoring Florence 24-11 in the final period. The 62-49 win kept alive hopes for reaching the consolation finals.
Matt Schneiter bounced back against Florence with 21 points and James Webb answered with 16 points. Bobby Clark made it three in double figures with 13. Chris Auchenbach pumped in 8, followed by Aaron Matoon and Lelan Anders with 2 each.
Junior Lelan Anders comes up with the ball after a rebounding shuffle and adds a critical two points in Seeley's late charge to tie Loyola in regulation play.
Saturday morning the Hawks advanced to the consolation finals with a 57-53 win over Eureka, when Matt Schneiter scored 9 of his 23 points in the final period to overcome a 16-0 run by Eureka late in the third and final periods. The Hawks finished with four players in double figuresSchneiter at 23, Bobby Clark at 12, Chris Auchenback and James Webb with 11 each.
Saturday evening, the Hawks set up the Monday night challenge game with a 60-49 win over Troy. In a closely contested game, the Hawks pulled away in the final period behind Matt Schneiter's 23 points. James Webb added 10 points to reach double figures, with broad scoring support by Lelan Anders with 8, Cameron Gamache with 7, Matt Nessan 5, Chris Auchenbach 4, and Bobby Clark 3.