If there are levels of noise, amounts of shaking or heights of drama the old, lovable wooden gymnasium at Flathead High School can’t handle, surely they all were approached on Thursday night.
The roof held on for dear life as Flathead reeled off a massive run to give itself a commanding lead, igniting the orange-and-black-clad fans packed like sardines into the bleachers on the bottom and top levels alike.
It braced again as Glacier charged back, leading to a raucous explosion in the stands on the opposite side of the floor. Not until fans slowly wandered out of the gym after being treated to a wild, 59-55 Flathead boys basketball victory over Glacier in overtime was the venerable barn granted some much-needed relief.
“Classic crosstown game,” Glacier coach Mark Harkins said. “Great excitement. It was a blast. Both teams just battled their hearts out tonight.”
The victory gave Flathead a home sweep of the crosstown games for the second consecutive year and placed the Braves in third place in the Western AA conference, just a half-game behind Missoula Hellgate and Missoula Sentinel. But it did not come easy.
The Braves appeared to have the game in hand late in the third quarter.
They raced out on an 18-2 run that turned a 24-all tie into a 42-26 game quickly slipping away from the Wolfpack.
But Glacier slowly chipped away at the deficit, and tension began to rise when Kody Jarvis knocked down a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to cut Flathead’s lead back to single digits.
The Wolfpack outscored the Braves 14-5 in the fourth quarter, its last bucket supplied by Nick Whitman with eight seconds remaining, to force overtime.
“You definitely can get on a little bit of a run and hit a couple of shots,” Flathead coach Ross Gustafson said. “The crowd’s going nuts, and that just spurs you a little bit more.”
As the Braves sat on the bench before overtime, likely a bit stunned that the extra period was necessary, seniors Sam Elliott and Eric Seaman delivered a message.
“Enough’s enough,” Gustafson said they told the team. “We’re going to come back and win this thing. Don’t worry.”
The two then went back onto the floor and walked the talk, combining for all eight of Flathead’s points in overtime.
“My guys were still calm, still confident,” Gustafson said. “I looked in their eyes, and they didn’t show panic.”
Elliott’s 16 points and Seaman’s 10 complimented Tyler Johnson’s game-high 19 for Flathead, which won without hitting a 3-pointer thanks to a dominant inside presence.
All helped spoil the scoring exhibition put on by Glacier’s Brec Rademacher, who hit three 3-pointers on his way to a 17-point evening.
“That’s just what Brec does,” Harkins said.
“He scored for us and gave us a much-needed lift.”
Harkins called the matchup with Flathead a “measuring stick” for his team, and he was pleased with the performance he witnessed despite the end result.
“We can compete with anybody,” Harkins said, citing close losses to Flathead, Great Falls, Bozeman and Missoula Hellgate, all contenders for the Class AA title. “We’ve lost to good teams by a little bit, so we just need to figure out that last step.
“There’s no way they quit, and no one in the gym’s going to say they quit tonight. For that, I’m very proud.”
Gustafson’s analysis of his team’s potential going forward was even sweeter.
“We,” he said, “are going to be a tough team to beat.”
Glacier 9 15 13 14 4 — 55
Flathead 10 16 20 5 8 — 59
GLACIER: Caden Harkins 2 0-1 4, Collin Kazmier 2 2-4 6, Brec Rademacher 7 0-0 17, Kody Jarvis 2 0-0 6, Drew Engellant 1 0-0 2, Alex Whitman 1 0-0 3, Nick Whitman 6 1-3 13, A.J. Grande 2 0-0 4.
FLATHEAD: Clayton Jacques 1 0-0 2, Eric Seaman 5 0-1 10, Tyler Johnson 7 5-9 19, Sam Elliott 5 6-8 16, Anthony Jones 3 0-0 6, Dawson Smith 3 0-1 6.