BLANCHARD — The Montabella Mustangs boys basketball team has not won a district title since 2007.
They continue their effort for a new title tonight with a matchup against Beal City at home in the Class C district semifinals.
The Mustangs (15-6) defeated Carson City-Crystal 53-34 on Monday to open up the tournament. They held the Eagles to just 17 second half points.
Montabella coach Cam Gatrell believes his team is playing their best basketball of the season.
“Honestly, and it’s not a cliche, but I think we are playing our best basketball right now,” Gatrell said.
That is the goal at this time of the season where one loss and the season is over.
“It doesn’t always happen that way, but some years it doesn’t” Gatrell said. “You never know how you’re going to play on any given night, but I would say if you break the season down into two week segments this has been our best two weeks of basketball.”
Montabella has won seven of its last eight games.
“We struggled for long stretches this year,” Montabella coach Cam Gatrell said. “I dare say it, but for a while there we underachieved. For stretches throughout the year we didn’t play together and defensively struggled at times.”
Gatrell has seen a big improvement in their defense, which they showed on Monday by forcing the Eagles into 27 turnovers.
“The last two or three weeks I saw progression. The seniors started to grab hold of the team,” Gatrell said. “The team started coming together and really making a commitment on the defensive end. The boys started knowing their roles offensively.”
The next challenge is Beal City (16-4) tonight at 6 p.m. This will be the second meeting between the two teams this year.
Beal City defeated Montabella 54-37 on Dec. 12 and have won 5 straight to end their season.
“They have a lot shooters. They don’t have a lot of size, but they spread you out,” Gatrell said. “Stone (Beckwith) is an excellent one-on-one ballplayer. He is a guaranteed first-team all-state Class C player.”
Beckwith — committed to Saginaw Valley State — is a three-time all-conference player and was honorable mention all state a year ago.
Beckwith scored 37 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a 55-53 regular season finale win over McBain (18-3) on March 1.
“He causes a lot of problems. He is a matchup nightmare,” Gatrell said of Beckwith. “He can hit from 25-feet, he is an excellent ball handler and can get to the rim and he is strong.”
Gatrell said Beal City has more than just Beckwith to contend with.
“They have three or four guys that can shoot,” he said. “To defend them well you have to be athletic and long. You can’t make any mistakes, you have to communicate and rotate.
The Mustangs are athletic and long. They will try to use their size to their advantage with Charley Helmer and Jemikal Papendick both defensively and offensively.
“The key is getting it inside,” Gatrell said. “Also spacing, ball movement and limiting turnovers. They are going to pressure us.”
Helmer is averaging 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Papendick is averaging 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds while Jeramee Gilman is averaging 8.3 points per game.
Montabella has had quality teams the past few years, but have been unable to win a district title. They are confident of their ability to do so despite the tough road that will possibly feature Ithaca (14-6) in the district final.
“It seems like we never have an easy road and that is the same with this tournament,” Gatrell said. “We really feel like this tournament is anybody’s and we are as good as anybody. It depends on who plays well.”