BILLINGS — There was no doubt how the game would end, and there was no long state tournament drought to snap. That didn’t stop the Billings Skyview girls basketball team from celebrating like it did a year ago.
The No. 5-ranked Falcons earned a 70-37 home win over Great Falls CMR in Thursday’s Class AA state tournament play-in game. It will be the second straight state appearance for Skyview (11-4), which broke a 19-year State AA tourney drought last season.
Skyview’s players didn’t burst into joyous tears after Thursday’s win like they did in the aftermath of their 46-40 state-clinching win over Billings Senior on March 7 of last year, but they screamed, jumped and embraced in the moments following the final buzzer.
“It was like last year all over again. Last year was like the best feeling ever, and then it just carried on to this year. It made us better, made us want it more,” said Skyview junior Cami Harris. “To all be together to experience it again, it’s amazing.”
Because of COVID-19, Class AA traded its divisional tournament format for state play-in games this season. Preparing for a win-or-go-home game instead of the double-elimination Eastern AA Divisional, in which the top four teams advance to state, made Skyview coach Brent Montague a bit nervous in the lead up to Thursday.
“You’re sitting around from Saturday until today, and you’re going, ‘It’s just one game,’ ” Montague said. “Last year, we knew we had double elim, and then we knew we were going to play Senior. Obviously, that was a play-in game, but it was different (this year) because we were sitting around all week. You just can’t allow weird thoughts to get into your brain."
The Falcons never trailed and quickly built a double-digit lead over CMR (4-11). They were up 19-9 after one quarter and 37-13 at halftime.
Skyview junior Brooke Berry and freshman Breanna Williams each scored 15 points, and Harris added 12.
For CMR, Shania Gardipee and Lauren Lindseth each scored 10 points.
The Falcons are the Eastern AA’s third seed, and they’ll face the Western AA's second seed and top-ranked Helena Capital in the first round on Wednesday at Four Seasons Arena at Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls. Capital beat Skyview in the first round last season and went on to share the state championship with Billings West.
Last season’s Falcons were understandably happy just to be playing at state. They’re more confident going into next week’s tourney.
“Last year, crazy. I think this year, they had a little bit of expectation. They had some belief that they could do this,” Montague said of returning to state. “The fact they they accomplished that goal, they’re feeling pretty good about it.”
Skyview boys also return to state
Like the girls, the Skyview boys cruised in their State AA play-in game, beating Belgrade 64-35 at Skyview.
Next week's State AA tournament in Great Falls will be Skyview's third straight and eighth in nine years.
The No. 3-ranked Falcons (12-3) opened the game on an 11-0 run, were up 18-9 after one quarter and held a 37-15 halftime lead over the Panthers (1-13).
“They’re really good, and we’re really young,” said Belgrade coach Luke Powers. “We are going to turn into a pretty good program. But Skyview’s been a dominant program going on seven years now. They just continue to show that. They defend better than anyone in the state, in my opinion. They fly to the boards. They share it so well. They’re a great team.”
Belgrade junior Ta'Veus Randle scored a game-high 22 points (7 of 17 from the field) and hit two buzzer beaters, including a half-court toss at the end of the first half.
Randle’s junior teammate Wyatt Russell added 11 points (4 of 8).
Camron Ketchum led Skyview with 17 points (6 of 9 on field goals, 3 of 5 on 3-pointers), seven rebounds and five assists, and Abe Seybert scored nine points (4 of 7 FG). They are two of eight seniors on this year’s Falcons roster.
“Some of us are going to try and play college basketball, so we’ll still be able to play, but there are some who aren’t going to be playing. It’s just weird to think about,” Ketchum said. “We’ve been playing basketball our whole lives. All of the sudden, it’s just going to be over.”
The Falcons were state co-champions with Missoula Hellgate last season. They would love nothing more than to earn a state trophy they don’t have to share.
“I don’t really feel like I’m a state champion,” Ketchum said. “We want it really bad.”
Skyview, the Eastern AA's No. 2 seed, will face Western AA No. 3 seed Helena Capital in the first round at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Four Seasons Arena.