Sam Tudor knew he had a special vehicle when he was named head coach of the Bigfork boys’ basketball program last spring.
“I inherited a Cadillac,” said Tudor, referring to the talent he had coming back from last season’s Class B state-championship squad.
The Vikings didn’t always look like a luxury car Thursday morning in the opening game of the state tourney at Four Seasons Arena, but they managed to drive away with a 53-50 victory over Columbus.
It was a matchup of the 2014 state-title game in Bozeman, won 71-62 by a much taller Bigfork squad.
“We’re a different team personnel-wise, but it comes down to the experience these guys gained last season when they won state,” said Tudor, who didn’t coach in the program last winter.
He had served as an assistant under head coach Kurt Paulson the previous two years, however, so he was familiar with the personnel.
“Kurt Paulson (now at Oregon State University with Wayne Tinkle) laid the foundation for this program,” said Tudor, a 1995 graduate of Cascade High, where his father Chip previously coached. “These kids have played for three different coaches in four years, and hopefully they’ve learned something from each one.”
Bigfork (22-2) used an 11-2 run to go up by 13 points midway through the third quarter against Columbus (20-5), but coach Paul Barta’s Cougars refused to quit, slicing the deficit to two points after three quarters.
That’s when Bigfork’s 6-2 senior Josh Sandry went to work inside the paint, converting three straight inside attempts into field goals. Sandry then fed teammate Tyler Piazzola for an easy layup, extending the lead to 40-32.
A 3-pointer by Trey Ostrem with 47 seconds remaining got the Cougars back within 52-50, but it was the last scoring for Columbus. Sandry made one of three free throws in the final 27 seconds, and a desperation 3-pointer by Tanner Osborne — which could have sent the game into overtime — bounced off the rim just before the final buzzer.
Sandry, who will play football next fall at the University of Montana, led the Vikings with 13 points, including 11 the second half. Isaac Martel chipped in with 11 points, and Jonathan Landon grabbed 10 rebounds.
Kiefer McKay topped Columbus with 19 points, and Tanner Osborne (12) and Ostrum (11) also finished in double digits.
Bigfork will meet unbeaten Choteau at 3:30 this afternoon in the first semifinal game, while Columbus returns to the court at 9 this morning to face St. Labre in an elimination game.