BILLINGS — Those involved in Saturday’s Eastern A girls divisional basketball championship game knew it was close. But that close?

When shown two numbers from the stat sheet — a 12 and a 14 — it elicited pretty much the same initial response.

"Wow."

Top-ranked Billings Central hung on to defeat No. 2 Havre 44-43 at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark on the strength of Mya Hansen’s go-ahead drive and layup with 8.3 seconds left. The Blue Ponies had a chance to win or push the game to overtime, but Sadie Filius missed two free throws with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

Like the shared response to the 12 and 14 on the stat sheet (we’ll get to that) both sides said the missed free throws weren’t the deciding factor. They were just part of a series of plays in which any of them, had they gone a different way, could have changed the outcome of a game that again showed why these two contenders have developed such a rivalry the past few years.

“I feel empathy for Sadie because she’s such a great person,” Billings Central’s Isabelle Erickson said. “I played with her this summer in some basketball tournaments. I mean, it sucks when that happens, but at the end of the day we’re both going to state. One play doesn’t define a long game.”

So, here’s the 12 and 14. The game featured 12 ties and 14 lead changes.

Yeah, wow.

“Is that not what championship games are about?” Billings Central coach Jetton Ailes asked rhetorically. “Absolutely. That was a lot of fun.

“That’s what I told the girls. This is what we play for, these are what you work so hard for, what you grind for. And I just … I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

It was just last year, in this same divisional semifinal game, that Hansen drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to get the Rams into overtime against the Blue Ponies, a game eventually won by Central.

So when the Rams had the ball out of a timeout trailing 43-42 with 18 seconds left, there was little doubt where it was going. The ball eventually got into the hands of Hansen in front of the scorer’s table, and the junior squared up and started her way toward the hoop.

Hansen, who has committed to the University of Montana, crossed over to her left hand, took a couple more dribbles and weaved her way through four defenders before scooping the ball with her right hand to put Central ahead for the final time.

“We were looking for a play we had drawn up,” Hansen said. “It wasn’t there, so I just had to focus on what we could do next and that drive was open for me so I took it.”

With the Rams leading 44-43, a series of out-of-bounds plays left Havre to inbound under its own basket with four seconds to play. Again, a scrum ensued, but Filius, from the floor, was able to get her hands on the ball and try to send the ball toward the hoop.

A foul was called, and Filius was awarded two free throws with one-tenth of a second to go. Both attempts hit off the back of the rim, sending the Rams into celebration, their third consecutive divisional title in hand

Havre coach Dustin Kraske said he was simply pleased that Filius turned nothing into something at the end.

“Think of the basketball IQ to be able to understand to do that,” he said. “And she’s not afraid to put herself in that situation to shoot the foul shots. So it’s perfect. I’m happy that she was on the line and I know she was happy she was on the line. They didn’t go in.”

Hansen and Erickson finished with 13 points to lead the Rams, and Maria Stewart added nine.

Filius had a game-high 15 points. Kylie Walker, who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter of Friday’s semifinal win over Hardin, had 13 points, all in the second half against the Rams.

Both teams had already qualified for next week’s state tournament in Great Falls and, as such, have “bigger fish to fry” in the words of Kraske.

Still, there’s plenty of time to relish in another classic game between these programs.

“These type of games reveal a lot of character,” Ailes said, “and I couldn’t be more proud of the way these girls handle themselves and carry themselves. They just win with respect and they lose with respect. It just says a lot about their character and where they come from.”

Said Kraske: “Congratulations to Jet. I mean, obviously, it was a great game. I was real proud of our kids. I thought they battled and battled and battled. It was a fun basketball game. We ran some stuff down the stretch there to give ourselves some opportunities. That’s all you can ask for.”

Earlier Saturday, Glendive upended Livingston and No. 3 Hardin defeated No. 5 Laurel to quality for state. Hardin later topped Glendive for third place. To read more about those games visit the Full Court Press.

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

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