Billings Senior v West boys hoops

Billings Senior’s Junior Bergen tries to make space for a shot against Billings West during a State AA boys basketball play-in game Thursday at the Senior gym. 

BILLINGS — Given that Billings West handled Billings Senior rather easily the last time the teams met two weeks ago, Broncs coach Drew Haws didn’t exactly have a read on how his team might fare Thursday night in its Class AA playoff game.

There was a lot to factor in. That 15-point loss … a five-point win for his Senior team early in the season … the playoffs … and the ever popular throw-out-the-records ethos whenever the intra-city rivals meet.

When the dust settled at the Senior gym, it was Haws’ Broncs who earned their trip to the state tournament with a 51-42 victory over the Golden Bears, a win that was well-earned given the closeness of the contest throughout most of it.

“You’re never comfortable as a coach playing against West,” Haws said afterward. “You know emotions run high, and the kids know each other so well. I thought we have a pretty good chance when we (earned) the home game, but you’re just never comfortable.”

The Broncs’ win came on the back half of a playoff doubleheader at the Senior gym. Earlier, the Great Falls girls outlasted Senior 37-35 in overtime to earn their own trip to the state tournament.

“We’re excited,” Great Falls coach Jerry Schmitz said. “The girls have worked hard, so I’m proud of these kids. They’re great kids.”

Senior boys 51, West 42

Fitting of all the factors mentioned above, the game was close nearly the entire time. West’s biggest lead was six in the first half and Senior didn’t top that advantage until Reagen Walker started the scoring in the fourth quarter with a corner 3-pointer, putting the Broncs up 37-30.

Though that was Senior’s final field goal of the game, the Broncs extended their lead by going 14 of 19 from the foul line over the game’s final 6:40.

Junior Bergen led the Broncs with 17 points and Walker finished with 13. Walker hit a 3-pointer in each quarter, and the first 3 came at opportune times, giving Senior leads of 11-6, 17-16 and 34-30.

Haws also pointed out the play of Melo Pine, a role player earlier in the year who has worked his way into more playing time. Pine scored seven of his nine points in the third quarter to help the Broncs remain in control.

"Those two guys (Walker and Pine) along with Junior, we needed all of that to beat those guys tonight," Haws said. "They're a good team."

Neil Daily scored 17 points to lead the Golden Bears (7-8).

West’s last lead was at 16-14 midway through the second quarter, but the game was tied 28-28 with 2:05 left in the third after a basket by the Bears’ Paul Brott.

“It was a roller-coaster year, but that a great group,” West coach Kelly Darragh said of his team. “It’s always sad to say goodbye to these kids, that’s tough. But I think we’re leaving with more positives than negatives.”

Great Falls girls 37, Senior 35 (ot)

A basket by Alison Harris with 8 seconds left broke a tie score, and Great Falls held on to beat Senior to earn its state tournament berth.

Senior took leads twice in the extra period, first on a basket by Olivia LaBeau and again by Kennedy Venner. Both times the Bison answered, the first time by Harris and then by Ashlyn Jones.

With 54 seconds to go, Great Falls burned off nearly 46 seconds before Ryen Palmer's baseline lob to Harris paid off with a layup for Harris.

Senior missed its last attempt, sending the Bison (9-6) to the state tournament.

"Oh, my gosh," said Harris, a senior who finished with 15 points. "We've been really trying to come together and I think these last couple of games, we finally got into our rhythm and chemistry. I think it came across this game."

Hallie Thompson, another senior, added eight points for the Bison, who trailed by seven after Lily Johnson opened the second half with two baskets for a 21-14 Senior lead.

"Our seniors were huge tonight," Schmitz said. "They just all contributed. In the second half we tried to make a little more concerted effort to go inside to Alison. They did a good job there at the end. Palmer just with a great pass inside and Alison had a good post up."

Brenna Linse scored 11 points and Olivia LaBeau added nine for the Broncs (8-7), whose season ended for the second season in a row in overtime.

Though the regular season was shortened from 18 games to 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Broncs, in coach Connor Silliker's second season, won as many games as they did last year (8-12).

While Silliker acknowledge the Broncs are "moving the chains forward," he also said the program's goal is to always make the state tournament.

"We're not satisfied," he said of the team's won-loss record, "but you do care your kids and you wish you could take the sting away from it, because you don't want to see them hurt the way they did after a game like that. I can't fault their effort at all.

"They did what I asked them to do. Sometimes that ball bounces one way or another it it just didn't bounce on our side."

 

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

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