BILLINGS — State tournament berths safely tucked into their pockets, top-ranked Billings Central and No. 2 Havre have a showdown scheduled for Saturday that both sides hope is a glimpse into the near future.

State is a week away yet, so the Rams and Blue Ponies will look for a springboard when they meet for the Eastern A divisional championship after netting state-qualifying semifinal wins on Friday at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.

Billings Central rolled after the first quarter to beat Glendive 60-33, while Havre had another tug-of-war with No. 3 Hardin in a 50-46 win.

Saturday’s divisional championship is scheduled for a 4 p.m. tip at Metra. The Rams and Blue Ponies, no strangers to each other in big-time games the past several years, met earlier this season in Havre when Billings Central won by five points.

Havre coach Dustin Kraske, following the semifinal win over Hardin, relished another trip to the state tournament and called Saturday’s championship game “the cherry on top.”

“Play your best, right, and then we’ll see what it is,” he said. “I think both teams are playing, right now for the most part, pretty well. And I think it will be a heck of a ballgame.”

Billings Central 60, Glendive 33

Billings Central junior guard Mya Hansen was sitting on a trainer’s table, a bag of ice wrapped around an ankle for postgame treatment, when longtime broadcaster Rocky Erickson strolled by her and offered his congratulations.

“For what?” Hansen asked him.

Erickson told Hansen she had surpassed 1,000 career points in the Rams’ win over the Red Devils, a victory that was about as low-key as Hansen’s milestone.

“I didn’t even know,” Hansen said later about surpassing the 1,000-point barrier.

COVID protocols limit the number of tournament spectators to 500 tickets per team, so Friday’s semifinals weren’t as booming as in years past. That might have contributed to some unease among the players — the spacious arena can get eerily quiet — but once the teams got settled in points started to roll, especially for the Rams.

Trailing 7-3 early, they reeled off 14 points in the final 3:38 of the first quarter and built a 27-19 halftime lead.

Hansen found her groove in the third quarter, netting 12 points in those eight minutes, and the fourth quarter was all Central, which held Glendive scoreless for the first 7:20 of the quarter.

“I was in my head a little bit that first half, I’ll say that,” Hansen said. “Those little jumpers weren’t falling, nothing was going well for me right there. I just had to focus and lock in. I couldn’t look in the past anymore, so I just had to focus on what’s ahead and what can I do better.”

Hansen finished with 18 points, 15 in the second half, and Solei Elletson contributed 11 by hitting three 3-pointers. Isabelle Erickson added nine points and seven rebounds.

Cari Nagel had 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead Glendive. The Red Devils advanced to the semifinals with a first-round upset of No. 5 Laurel in the first round, but trailed the Rams since Maria Stewart broke an 11-11 tie with a minute left in the first quarter.

“It feels good to be able to punch our ticket,” Central coach Jetton Ailes said of qualifying for state, “but there is still one more game to win. We’re just trying to focus on that right now and not look too far down the road. But we’re excited for the opportunity to continue our season, especially for our seniors.”

Glendive plays in a loser-out game against Livingston at 9 a.m. Saturday at Lockwood High School. The winner grabs a state berth and will either Hardin or Laurel for third place.

Havre 50, Hardin 46

Kraske expected nothing less. The day’s second semifinal was all it should have been.

Given the teams split their regular-season series with point differentials of four and three points in the two games, the fact there were eight lead changes in the latest meeting was none too surprising.

“I hate to talk like it was typical Havre-Hardin, but it was kind of a typical Havre-Hardin game,” Kraske said. “Coach (Cindy) Farmer’s teams have been good and we’ve been lucky enough to play in some great games.”

Sadie Filius scored 12 points, Kylie Walker had 11 and Yelena Miller contributed 10 for the Blue Ponies.

The last lead change came on a Walker 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. That gave Havre a 36-35 lead, and though the game stayed close, Havre knocked down 14 of 16 free throws in the final 5:37 to seal the win.

Walker scored all 11 of her points in the fourth quarter.

Another positive factor for the Blue Ponies: They had just 10 turnovers against an aggressive Bulldogs’ defense that thrives on getting steals and creating offensive chances. As the primary ballhandler, Filius played a big role in providing stability for the Blue Ponies.

“Going into every game with Hardin we know it’s going to be back and forth,” said Filius, who was charged with just one turnover. “So it just comes down to your mental preparation. I just have to trust that I can handle the ball against good teams that are in your face. I just have to trust my work.”

Kylee Old Elk led Hardin with 13 points and Nevaeh Alden added 10. The Bulldogs led by six, 32-26, on a 3-pointer by Aiyanna Big Man with 3:15 left in the third quarter, but Havre outscored Hardin 24-14 the rest of the way.

The Bulldogs will face Laurel in a loser-out game at 9 a.m. at the Metra. The winner advances to the state tournament and will play either Glendive or Livingston for third place.

For coverage of the rest of the day's games, please visit the Full Court Press.

 

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

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