HAMILTON -- By almost any measure, the 2015-16 season has been pretty fun for the Arlee boys' basketball team.
But walking the ball up court late in a game, regardless of score, while joking with teammates? That won't fly with head coach Zanen Pitts.
"Don't talk with your mouth, talk with the ball," Pitts said of barking at his boys late in Friday's bout with Ennis.
Oh there's been plenty of ball-talk this year as well.
Arlee blitzed Ennis from start to finish -- after the little reminder at least -- to earn a spot in the Western C Divisional finals. The 69-51 win over Ennis on Friday leaves the Warriors one win from a divisional championship and a return to the State C tournament.
Manhattan Christian, which bested District 13-C champion Valley Christian 63-55 on the other side of Friday's bracket, still stands in the way. The division title game is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday.
A night after pounding Shields Valley 85-30 in a first-round encounter, Arlee's scorching shooters were on pace for nearly triple digits. A 24-point first quarter led to a 54-percent shooting first half.
A swarming defense created with theft at its core created all that offense. District 14-C titlist Arlee (21-1) finished with 18 steals and 19 forced turnovers.
"Our defense is really up in your face and a lot of teams just don't know how to handle it," explained forward Patrick Bigsam.
Philip Malatare led Arlee with nine steals, part of a near-miss triple double effort. He had 14 points, second on the team to Tyler Tanner's 27, and also dished out eight assists.
That's nothing new for the Warriors. In Pitts' estimation, his sophomore point guard has been a few of one statistic or another away from triple-doubles in more than half the team's games this year.
"That's no lie," Pitts said. "If you were to go back and break it down, he'd set the all-state (assists) record. ... But records are pointless. They're gonna get broke, they're gonna get questioned, they're gonna get challenged.
"State titles will last forever."
According to MHSA's online record book, Fairfield's Shane Gamradt holds the state record with 230 helpers in 1994-95.
Arlee's state-centric theme runs its locker room this year after the team fell in last year's state semis in Billings. Arlee was eliminated the next day by Manhattan Christian, the team that edged the Warriors for the Western C Divisional title a year ago and Saturday's upcoming opponent.
"It would be nice to have some good redemption against them," Arlee's Isaac Desjarlais said. "We're the same team, but we're stronger -- and quicker."
Ennis (18-6), which will play Hot Springs in a loser-out game Saturday morning, was led by Gavin McKitrick's 15 points. Ty Morgan had another 11.
Manhattan Christian 63, Valley Christian 55
Valley Christian suffered just its second loss of the season Friday, but this one came at a crippling time.
Manhattan Christian advanced to the divisional finals and put Valley (21-2) off the state path.
The Missoula boys spent the first half trying to work inside with occasional success. Six-foot-10 center Brian Gragg looked like a sure-thing double-double with eight points and nine rebounds, six of them offensive, at halftime where Valley Christian trailed 24-18.
But he took only one shot in the second half and had one offensive board as the Eagles' distance shooters became the focus.
"We were struggling to rebound the basketball even with our bigger guys so we changed things up," coach Aaron Hill said. "We tried to play a little faster pace than we play most of the time and a little smaller and we made some runs."
Valley shot better, especially from 3-point range (8 of 19), in the second half but so did Manhattan Christian (18-5). The victors ran with Valley and extended their lead to as many as 16 points.
Valley Christian cut that to six on two occasions with the help of the long ball. At 61-55 with under a minute to play, the Eagles found one last hope because of Manhattan Christian's struggles with free throws. James Ramirez missed his second try, but a Manhattan Christian teammate nabbed the board to further bully Valley.
The team was just 12 of 25 on free throws, 10 of 20 in the fourth to leave the door open.
"We were confident that we could (come back), but it felt like every time that we played great defense we gave up an offensive rebound and they would get a put-back," Hill said.
Zack Baugher was 3 of 4 on triples and led Valley with 17 points; Elijah Redfern was 4 of 7 from deep and added 15 points.
The quartet of Kyle Frye (16 points), Ramirez (15), Austin Bos (14) and Kevin Blanksma (14) scored all but four of Manhattan Christian's points.
Valley must face District 13-C foe Seeley-Swan now at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for a chance to reach the consolation finals later in the day.
Seeley-Swan 55, Shields Valley 50
Trailing 43-36 after three quarters, the Blackhawks surged for 19 fourth-quarter points to bypass Shields Valley and keep an improbable postseason run going.
Joshua Cahoon scored half of his points in the fourth period as both he and Jacob Haley totaled 14 points for Seeley (10-13), the sixth seed at last week's District 13-C tournament. Seeley will play again Saturday morning for a spot in the divisional consolation finals later in the day.
Shield's Daniel Rivera notched a game-high 20 points, but his team was eliminated with the loss.
Hot Springs 69, Plains 65
Both teams shot very well, but Hot Springs' slight edge in the free throw department proved to be the difference for the Savage Heat.
Each side made 25 field goals -- Plains shot 47 percent with Hot Springs at an even 50 -- and each side made five from 3-point range. The Heat were 14-24 on freebies, though, while Horsemen were just 10-19.
Zach Osborne scored 21 for Hot Springs with 13 rebounds and Trevor Paro added 16 points, including 8 of 11 on free throws.
Ryan Ovitt led Plains and all players with 25 points.