Hardin vs. Billings Central

Billings Central will look to replicate the Eastern A Divisional championship it won two weeks ago as the Class A state tournament tips off Thursday.

Guide to the Class A girls basketball tournament

For the past couple seasons, Havre coach Dustin Kraske has termed the Eastern A Divisional — which combines the Southeast A and Southwest A (formerly the Eastern A and Central A) — a “mini state tournament.” The fans think so, too, as upwards of 7,000 attended the semifinal and championships sessions two weeks ago at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark, according to estimates. Teams from the Eastern A have had a good run at state recently, and they look to continue that this weekend as the state tournament tips off Thursday at Metra.

Here’s a quick look at the tournament:

2019 champion: Havre

2020 field: Billings Central (19-2), Browning (18-4), Corvallis (16-6), Dillon (15-7), Hamilton (14-7), Hardin (19-2), Havre (20-2), Livingston (13-10)

Storyline: Havre is the two-time defending state champion and is seeking to be Class A’s first three-peat winner since Billings Central (1985-87). In both championship wins, the Blue Ponies defeated Hardin, which has played in the last three title games. The Bulldogs also lost to Columbia Falls in 2017, so they’re looking to break that trend. But, in a testament to the strength of the Eastern A, neither Havre nor Hardin won the divisional two weeks ago; that title went to Billings Central, which knocked off Havre in the semifinals and Hardin in the championship. Of course, this isn’t to say everyone else is playing for scraps. Corvallis, the current state volleyball champion, has won nine games in a row after jumping from a third seed in the Southwest A to a Western A championship by edging Hamilton, which is making its third state appearance in four years, 44-43. The Blue Devils are making just their second state trip in school history. Dillon won the Southwest A before slipping to fourth at divisionals, while Browning was a regular-season champion in the Northwest A. Three of its four losses are to tournament teams Havre (twice) and Hamilton. Livingston is probably at its peak heading into the tournament, and is back in the field for the first time since 2008.

Fun fact: No. 1 Hardin, No. 2 Billings Central and No. 3 Havre spent all season in the top three of the 406mtsports.com Class A rankings, in various order. Hardin and Havre enter state with just two losses each … all four of those losses have been to Billings Central. 

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

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