2 NAIA Players Of The Year From Montana Class C Basketball
If I remove family from the equation. There isn’t anything in the world I would rather do than call a game.
I have been blessed to do play-by-play for 26 years. Over the years the games (and seasons) just start to blend together.
Give me a break, I’m getting old!
But even in my old age, there are games that I will never forget. Games that I will tell everyone in the retirement home about daily.
Montana Tech football at Asuza Pacific.
Butte High’s 2012 playoff run, from Bo Taylor playing nose, to Dennehy’s kick.
Tech Basketball @ Carroll for the Frontier Tournament Chipper last year. Paging Drew Huse.
And finally, a game and a tournament that we still talk about, the 2018 Class C State Basketball tournament at the Butte Civic Center. Arlee – Manhattan Christian round 2.
Arlee entered as the defending state champs, beating the Eagles 71-67 in the chipper the year previous. Arlee also entered the tournament under a heavy national media spotlight, as the Warriors rallied for Suicide prevention and awareness.
In the years leading up to that 2018 tournament, Montana had the highest rate of suicide in the country, and the highest rate of suicide in the state (and nationally) was among Native Americans. The Arlee Basketball team wanted to do something about that. They produced and released a video that caught the attention of Montana and beyond. That video made a difference in people’s lives.
So you have the defending champs, an incredibly talented group of young men, with an unbelievable moral compass, led by Phillip Malatare.
On the other side of the equation, you have the Eagles of Manhattan Christian. The Eagle’s head coach (at the time) was a guy by the name of Jeff Bellach. If you look up ‘Character’ in the dictionary, Jeff’s smiling face will be beaming off the page at you. On the court, Manhattan Christian was led by his son, Caleb Bellach.
Two superbly talented programs who cared about basketball, but maybe family, and community even more.
I assume the game is still out there, (speaking like a really old person right now) somewhere on the internet. For the Warriors a perfect ending to a perfect season. The Eagles would have to wait one more year to get revenge on the Warriors and collect their own state championship trophy.
In that Championship game, Malatare had 18 points for the Warriors (as did sharp-shooter Will Mesteth) AND if I remember correctly, Phil was playing with the flu, stopping several times to throw-up mid-game. Manhattan Christian was paced by Caleb Bellach’s 27 points.
In that 2018 tournament, I always think about how damn proud of the Arlee kids and community I was, and on the basketball side, how impressed I was by Caleb Bellach and Phillip Malatare.
2 dominant Montana athletes who have continued their incredible success at the NAIA level.
After 2 seasons at North Idaho College, Phillip Malatare transferred to Easter Oregon University, where he was named newcomer of the year for the Cascade Conference. This season, Phil shot 52% from the floor, and 43% from the arc in averaging 19 points a game for the Mounties. Incredibly, in 30 games this season he was held to single digits in scoring only once. (9 vs. College of Idaho in CC Championship) Phillip was named the Cascade Conference Player of the Year.
Caleb Bellach started his college career at Montana State University. In his freshman season, Caleb played in 25 games for the Bobcats. Before his sophomore campaign, he transferred to Montana Tech to play for Coach Adam Hiatt. In 31 games he averaged 15 points a game, on 44% shooting. Bellach was named Frontier Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2021. The similarities between the two don’t end there, much like Malatare, Caleb was also named Conference player of the year for the Frontier Conference this season, averaging 20 points a game overall, and 23 against conference opponents.
Two small-town class acts are now Players of the Year, in two of the toughest NAIA conferences in the country.
Let’s hear it for great communities and fantastic families, let's hear it for Class C basketball.