Billings Central beats Laurel, 61-46

Billings Central's Sam Gray reacts after making a basket while being fouled by Laurel's Colter Bales (35) in the third quarter at the Laurel gym on Saturday. Gray added a free throw for three of his 15 points in the Rams' 61-46 win.

BILLINGS — Those embedded in the Billings Central-Laurel sphere of things like to refer to the schools’ head-to-head battles as the best rivalry in the state.

It’s tough to argue against that claim. Yet others can quibble, perhaps with an argument, as well.

But one sure-fire way of taking the heat of out any competition is to make it one-sided. The Rams boys basketball team is doing its best to make that so, and they beat their Eastern A arch-rivals Saturday afternoon yet again, this time 61-46 at the Locomotives’ gymnasium.

That makes six consecutive wins for the Rams in the series since Christian Jones hit a game-winning shot for the Locomotives back in January of 2017.

“It’s just mental preparedness for our guys,” Central coach Jim Stergar said. “I tell the kids, it’s not like I need to motivate you for this game. They came out, they responded and did a nice job.”

Chrishon Dixon scored 16 points, Sam Gray added 15, and Cade Herriford and Seth Sasich had eight each for the Rams (10-1, 5-0 Eastern A, and No. 1 in the 406mtsports.com Class A rankings). It was tough going early for both offenses, but the Rams closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run for a 15-5 lead and built it to 32-19 at the half.

Things got worse — or better, depending on the perspective — when Central put together a 14-0 run in the third quarter. The Rams’ lead got as big as 24 points before Laurel chipped that down to the final 15-point margin.

“I feel like we’re all rallying around each other and playing as one,” said Gray, a 6-foot-7 senior post, noting that the Rams played without sixth-man Niki Krause, who was ill. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we just feed off that really well, I feel like.”

Gaje Leischner led Laurel (7-4, 3-2) with 16 points and Eli Aby scored 10.

While the rivalry may be going one way now, both teams know there is a return game to play when the Locomotives travel to Central on Feb. 15, the final game of the regular season.

“I’ve seen some Central teams before and this one is definitely a good, talented team,” said Laurel coach Pat Hansen, who is in his 14th season with the Locos. “They have a shot to do some nice things, and I’m excited for our boys going forward to see how much we can improve come tournament time.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know interesting things happen at the end of the year. That’s exciting, and what keeps you plugging away.”

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Email Mike Scherting at mike.scherting@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert

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