GREAT FALLS — Hardin got its chance to rematch with Havre for the State A girls basketball championship after defeating familiar foe Billings Central 44-43 Friday.

Like all their previous meetings this season, it came down to one possession. And as Billings Central had a chance to get the final shot off and it bounced off the rim, Hardin and their fans yelled in glee that it had bounced their way.

“We had possession and then turned it over or fouled and then they turned it over, we got it back and then again, they had that chance and got a good look and the ball just bounced our way tonight,” Hardin coach Cindy Farmer said.

It was a fitting finale to this season of their rivalry. They had ended the first and second quarters tied at 10 and 18 respectively with neither able to gain any real advantage until the Bulldogs built an eight-point lead halfway through the third quarter, only to see it shrink back to just one by the start of the fourth.

“These kids battled for 32 minutes and to play the game for the last shot and the chance to win and go to the state title, you can’t ask for much more,” Billings Central coach Jetton Ailes said. “The ball bounces one way or another and that’s a different story, but credit to Hardin with the game plan that they had and it’s always a great game against us.”

With Hardin pressing the whole game and never letting up on defense, the Rams got 26 of their points from being opportunistic and from the free-throw line where Olivia Moten-Schell and Solei Elletson combined to make six in the final three minutes which drew the Rams within one possession of the Bulldogs.

“Man, that was by far THE stressful game I probably ever played,” Hardin junior Julianna Takes Horse said after.

Takes Horse was the difference for the Bulldogs in the third quarter when she scored seven of her 11 total points as Billings Central struggled to contain her in the post. Marie Five finished with 16 points to top the Bulldogs scoring.

Billings Central’s Elletson’s 13 points led the Rams.

Billings Central will face Columbia Falls Saturday with a chance to play for third.

“Got to show up tomorrow morning and end our season the right way,” Ailes said.

The Bulldogs will wait for their 6:30 p.m. date with Havre.

“They’re just like us. They’ll press us. (Kyndal) Keller is tough as nails and we just got to execute our game plan and do what we do and get out there and play; have fun,” Farmer said.

Havre 52, Laurel 41

Havre advanced with a 52-41 win over the Laurel Locomotives in the State A semifinal game Friday with a chance to defend their state title.

“It wasn’t easy. Geez Laurel is a very good, well-coached, disciplined team, very athletic, they shoot the ball well. This is a heck of a win for our guys,” Havre coach Dustin Kraske said after.

Kyndall Keller scored 14 of her 19 points in the first half to lead Havre.

“She just creates stuff for herself and the people around her,” Laurel coach Pat Hansen said.

And much like the first half started, they got off to a slow start when 1:30 into the second half Laurel’s Mya Hansen made a free throw to open scoring. Then within 70 seconds, Havre’s Katie Wirtzberger scored, followed by a driving layup from Laurel’s Aspen Cotter and then by a Wirtzberger three at the other end again as both teams raced up and down the floor. The Locomotives drew within four with 50 seconds in the quarter remaining, but Havre finished the quarter on a 6-0 run.

“When you play against a really good quality team you have to play like every possession matters because you don’t know which one is going to be the difference,” Laurel coach Pat Hansen said.

Again, the Locomotives closed to within four with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, but Havre responded with a 7-0 run as fouls mounted for both teams.

“We really brought it out on defense,” Havre sophomore Loy Waid said. “It’s just our enthusiasm getting ready before the game, being mentally ready and mentally tough.”

Havre’s difference in rebounding (31 to Laurel’s 18) helped keep the Locomotives at bay every time they tried to make a run.

Freshman Mya Hansen scored 19 points, eight in the fourth quarter, to lead the Locomotives.

Laurel will face Browning Saturday morning where the winner will advance to the consolation game.

“One game doesn’t define them,” Hansen said after of how they will approach the turnaround. “In life you work your butt off and you don’t always get what you want and you still have to get up and go to work.”

Meanwhile, Havre will meet Hardin in the state championship for the second time in two years with a chance to defend their title.

“I’m just so happy for our kids. They worked their tails off,” Kraske said as his team celebrated by taking a team photo outside the locker room. “They’ve earned it and us as coaches, we just appreciate it that they let us coach them. They work hard and it’s fun.”

Browning 52, Butte Central 42

Browning took control from the first quarter and although Butte Central tried to come back, Browning was determined not to have a repeat performance of their opening round loss to Hardin. They defeated the Maroons 52-42 in the consolation round Friday morning at the 2019 State A girls basketball tournament at the Four Seasons Arena.

Butte Central trailed by 26-15 at halftime, but in spite of keeping pace with Browning in the third and fourth quarters, they were unable to make up the deficit they fell into after the first half.

Senior Cha’slin Kipp sccored 15 to lead Browning. Taylor Jordan added eight points along with 13 rebounds.

The Maroons tried to make runs, but Browning’s height and defense allowed them to intercept many of Butte Central’s passes and once Browning was running in transition, it was tough for the Maroons to stop.

The final score from Butte Central came fittingly on a three-point shot from senior Tricia Joyce with less than a minute on the clock before she was subbed out with 35 seconds to go. Butte Central ends their season at 11-15.

Browning awaits the loser of the Laurel and Havre semifinal.

Columbia Falls 78, Libby 33

Columbia Falls had won each of their previous three meetings this season, but over the course of the season, the Loggers had developed a sense of belief that they could play with anyone.

But the depth and experience of a tournament-practiced team like Columbia Falls ended the Loggers’ first trip back to the state tournament since 2011. The Wildkats won 48-33 and ended Libby’s season at 16-11.

Shortly after the Columbia Falls student section started chanting “I believe that we will win,” with less than three minutes left on the clock, both coaches began sending in the subs.

And as the final minutes ticked off the clock and Libby players returned to the bench having been replaced, the tears flowed and senior Samantha Miller hugged all of her coaches and teammates. Six of the twelve members of the Loggers team will graduate (all as valedictorians or salutatorian) and have played together for almost their entire careers.

Jayden Winslow led the Loggers with 12 points.

After dropping their tournament opener to Laurel on Thursday, the Wildkats were looking to bounce back and after the first quarter, never let Libby get any closer than seven points. Columbia Falls was led by Trista Cowan with 18 points and her nine rebounds. Ryley Kehr scored 13.

The Wildkats await the loser of the Hardin and Billings Central semifinal for the chance to play for third.

This story will be updated.

Email Lindsay Rossmiller at lindsay.rossmiller@406mtsports.com or find her on Twitter @LindsayRossmill.

Digital Sports Editor

Digital Sports Editor for 406 MT Sports

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