Anaconda’s Trent Mikalatos, left, Bobby Swainston, Kadin Stetzner, Devon Kopp, Kayne Cobban and Braxton Hill lead the Copperheads into Thursday’s Western B Divisional first round in Ronan. PHOTO BY CS PHOTO/Blake Hempstead
Tomorrow at 9 p.m., it will almost be a year to the day when Anaconda lost their first round game at the Western B Divisional – a 69-64 upset in a game many Anaconda should have breezed through. When they take the court this time around, they will be staring at the same jersey wanting to prove the first time wasn’t a fluke.
It’s eerily the same situation as well, pitting the 6B No. 2-seed Copperheads (12-9, 6-4) against the 7B No. 3-seed Loggers (no official record reported) with a chance to take on the winner of Bigfork/Florence in the semifinals.
Hill (32), Swainston, back left, and Kayne Cobban all get a piece of the shot against Frenchtown in a 57-52 road loss earlier this year. PHOTO COPYRIGHT CS PHOTO/Blake Hempstead
According to Slim Kimmel of MTN and montanasports.com, he’s predicting a possible run for Anaconda as the darkhorse in the tournament. But Anaconda isn’t taking anything for granted this time around.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for Anaconda this season. A solid showing at the Tip Off Tournament with a 10-point win over Big Timber and three-point loss to 1B Fairfield including their first win over Class A Butte Central in 10 years had the team feeling on top of the world.
But, a season-ending broken arm to 6-5 sophomore reserve Zeke Buck and other depth issues were a big cause of concern in the middle of the campaign. Fast forward to the final week of the season: Anaconda was a full strength and showed the type of team they could be.
Anaconda finished the season on a four-game winning streak with wins over St. Ignatius, Ronan, then No. 1-ranked Missoula Loyola and Florence – the last two wins rebounding from earlier losses to the Rams and Falcons.
The Copperheads also survived a first-round district scare against St. Ignatius followed by ending a three-game losing streak against Deer Lodge in the semifinals before falling 53-50 to Loyola in the 6B title game.
No matter the detours, Anaconda has a clear path to their first state tournament trip since 2004-05. With a win over Libby, Anaconda will have a matchup in the Friday nightcap at Ronan Events Center with Florence – a team they split the season series with – and Bigfork – a 16-4 squad with losses to Florence and Loyola on the season.
First thing is first, take care of Libby.
“We know that we can’t overlook anyone around tournament time,” said 6-foot-6 junior forward Trent Mikalatos Wednesday. “We are motivated to go and play them, we are hungry and want to get them back for last year.”
Mikalatos, averaging 13.2 points/game, had nine last year against Libby and classmate Braxton Hill, averaging a team-high 22.2 ppg this season, led the team with 18. Libby drained 10 treys last year – seven of which came from graduating seniors Anthony Johnson (16 points) and Johnny Cielak (26 points). Team-leading sophomore Ryggs Johnson, playing basketball to pass the time as he chases an eventual PGA Tour card, was held to 12 points but did manage to make the final three, 3-point shots for the Loggers.
Hill is the catalyst for the Copperheads, who come in averaging 59.4/game. He has been bolting up the Anaconda All-Time scoring list this year, most recently passing Zach Parks (1,098) and Tyler Hurley (1,109) last week in the 6B tournament. Now with 1,156 career points, Hill is two points away from John Cheek Jr. (1,158) and 13 from Cory Huot (1,169) in seventh- and sixth-place, respectively. Jim Cordial is No. 5 with 1,240 before there’s a 200-point jump to Wayne Estes at No. 4 with 1,440.
Next to Mikalatos and Hill, 6-3 senior 2-guard Kadin Stetzner has been finding his stroke of late, picking his average up to 8.1 ppg along with 6-2 junior wing Bobby Swainston’s versatile 10.1 ppg. Six-foot-four senior post Kayne Cobban has reveled in his role of being the garbage man down low. More of a threat defensively and on the boards, Cobban contributes 5.5 ppg. From the bench, senior guard Devon Kopp, junior guard Gabe Byrne and sophomore forward Riley Cobban should see plenty of time this weekend.
Live coverage of the game can be heard locally on KANA 580 AM and streamed live at kana580.com or by downloading the live streaming app on Apple and Google Play stores by using keyword KANA 580. Legendary broadcaster Mick Holien, who enjoyed a 31-year career as Voice of the Griz for University of Montana football and men’s basketball games, will join the broadcast as a guest color commentator.