BILLINGS — The lead was never safe, but the Billings West boys basketball team was always in control.
The Class AA Golden Bears improved to 4-1 with a 52-49 home win over Class A Billings Central (3-3) on Saturday night. Their one loss came against Missoula Hellgate, the top-ranked AA team in the 406mtsports.com rankings.
“Obviously, don’t want to have a loss on our record, but I’m happy with what we’ve put out there so far,” said West senior Josh Erbacher. “We’re continuously getting better every week, and I think there’s a lot more room for improvement, which is a good sign.”
Two days earlier, Marcus Wittman beat the buzzer to give Central a 51-50 win over Billings Senior, a game in which the Rams trailed by as many as 14 points (11 in the fourth quarter). Another comeback was not to be on Saturday night, although Central trimmed its largest first-half deficit — 25-15 — to 25-22 at halftime.
West began the third quarter on a 14-3 run and maintained a lead of at least two possessions the rest of the way. A 9-2 run pulled the defending State A champion Rams within seven points, but the Bears led 41-30 through three quarters.
“We played good tonight for about a two-minute stretch,” said Central coach Jim Stergar. “If we hit a couple shots here and there, it’s a whole different story, because we wouldn’t give up as many shots on the other end that were so easy.”
The final margin was one possession thanks to three last-minute 3-pointers from senior Mason Yochum, who led Central with 13 points. The Bears led by as many as 14 points and were up 51-40 when West coach Kelly Darragh went to his reserves in the final minute.
It was the Bears’ first game since Dec. 21, when they beat Helena 63-37.
“I wouldn’t say (we were) rusty, but here and there, we wish we could have executed a little better,” Erbacher said. “Thought we had some chances to really put them away, but we obviously didn’t do that.
“But overall, I thought we did OK.”
Erbacher led all players with 16 points, followed by nine points each by fellow senior Logan Meyer and juniors Neil Daily and Teagan Mullowney.
Sophomore Brock Blatter and junior Nate Sasich each scored nine points for the Rams.
“It’s a win-win for us either way. If you win, it’s a real big win. When you lose, it’s like, you’re supposed to lose,” Stergar said. “Our guys play hard with anybody we play, and I’m proud of that.
“Shots are gonna fall for us. It’s still early in the season, early January. We’re a team that knows the best is yet to come.”