BOZEMAN — It began with a hug at mid-court between brothers Jae and Trae Hugs, and finished with hugs and tears among the Hardin Bulldog faithful as they defeated Billings Central 47-43 on Saturday night at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
The Bulldogs are the boys state basketball champs for the first time since 1997.
"You can see all the pent-up energy that we had to hold for 21 years. It's amazing," an emotional Andrew Round Face, Hardin's coach, said after the game. "That's what it's all about. We did it for the fans and the boys did it for themselves mainly. Sheesh, there's so many emotions going through us right now."
Senior David Evans led the Bulldogs with 17 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore Famous Lefthand added 11 points for the Bulldogs who overcame a 13-point second quarter deficit to defeat their Eastern A rival. The teams met twice earlier this season, combining for five overtimes and splitting the previous two.
A 14-3 run in the second quarter brought the game within two at halftime, a 29-27 Central lead to cap off an incredibly fast-paced first half. The third quarter was much slower, but sophomore Cayden Redfield hit two 3-pointers to give the Bulldogs a 33-32 lead.
From there, it was back-and-forth, with the teams trading the lead four times. Hardin grabbed the lead for good after senior Codi Small drove to the hoop with a layup with 2:12 left. Lefthand then made one of two free throws, but grabbed a steal after the miss and threw it inbounds to a waiting Redfield who scored and put Hardin up 45-41 with 22 seconds left. The Bulldogs used a pair of Lefthand free throws to make it a four-point game with 9.8 seconds left. Central could not convert an ensuing 3-pointer and the party was on for the Bulldogs. Chrishon Dixon led the Rams with 15 points as the Rams finish the season 17-8.
Hardin finishes 22-1.
"Our super happy for our team and my seniors that are leaving on a great note. We had to play our tails off to get this one though," Round Face said "Billings Central came out hot and we had to fight back. I knew we could fight back and we knew we withstood their best punch. It was amazing."
Hamilton 74, Browning 69
After opening the State A tournament with a loss on Thursday, the Hamilton Broncs battled back to win three games and take the third-place trophy as they defeated the Browning Indians 74-69 on Saturday night at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Tanner Goligoski scored 27 points thanks to shooting 6 for 11 from 3-point range and Carter Kearns added 16 for the Broncs, who end the season with a team record in wins at 26-1.
"It's exciting for the guys. Thursday was really tough and it hurt bad. This doesn't take away all the hurt but it does feel good," Hamilton coach Travis Blome said. "How hard it is to come back through the loser's bracket, especially when we had such high hopes. It just shows how tough these kids are and where we've come and I'm really proud of them."
The championship game between Billings Central and Hardin was not over at press time.
Hamilton and Browning came out shooting lights-out in the first half. The teams combined for 14 threes in the first half and Browning went into the break with a 39-36 lead. Goligoski scored 17 of his points then and knocked down five threes, including a stretch where he scored 14 straight points for the Broncs. Browning's Tyree Whitcomb scored 10 straight for his own team to give them the halftime lead. Whitcomb finished with a team-high 26 and Nathaniel Stiffarm, who transferred from Billings Senior for his senior year in Browning, finished with 12.
"That first half was one of the best first halves of basketball," Blome said. "Had to be fun to watch with the kids running up and down the floor, making shots, playing really good basketball. Second half, legs get a little more tired ... our guys really battled and they did a good job at the end."
After a back-and-forth, but slower third quarter, Hamilton began to pull away midway through the fourth, leading by as much as 10 with just under three minutes left. The teams exchanged free throws down the stretch but Browning never could quite catch up. Brandon Aimsback added 11 for Browning, while Hunter Omlid tallied 12 for Hamilton.
Browning 69, Frenchtown 62
Browning moved on to the third-place game with a 69-62 win over Frenchtown.
Nathaniel Stiffarm scored 15 to lead the Indians, while Tyree Whitcomb added 14 and Ethan Running Crane added 10. Browning shot the ball 52 percent from the field and was 9 for 15 from 3-point range.
Frenchtown led 21-10 after the first quarter, but a strong second quarter from Browning made it a one-point deficit by half. The Indians used the third quarter to pull away. Browning withstood a 33-point performance from Cade Baker and Jared Cole added 11 for the Broncs. Frenchtown finished its season at 17-11.
Hamilton 60, Lewistown 57
The Hamilton Broncs advanced to the third-place game with a 60-57 win over Lewistown. Three players scored in double-digits, led by Hunter Omlid in scoring with 19 points. Cam Rothie added 13 and Carter Kearns scored 11 for the Broncs.
A close game from the beginning, Hamilton and Lewistown went into halftime tied 29-29. Hamilton used a four-point advantage in the third quarter to go ahead and the Broncs shot 8 for 18 from the 3-point line.
Lewistown outrebounded the Broncs 38-22, but only shot 38 percent from the field while the Broncs connected on 51 percent of their shots. Tanner Trafton led Lewistown in scoring with 24 points while Jaden Graham added 21. The Golden Eagles, who were back in the state tournament for the first time since 2002, finished their season 19-6.