GREAT FALLS – Hamilton didn’t want to settle and Lacy Hochhalter didn’t want to go home.
Behind 21 points from Jaylee Albert, Hamilton surprised top-ranked Columbia Falls 44-39 in the State A girls’ basketball semifinals, putting the Broncs in just their third title game.
Earlier Friday Hochhalter scorched the Four Seasons Arena nets for a career-best 31 points to lead the Broncs past Anaconda 65-52 in an elimination game.
Both sets of Broncs have chances at trophies. Frenchtown, 15-7, plays Saturday at 9:30 a.m., against Columbia Falls, with a chance at gaining the consolation game.
Hamilton, meanwhile, will face either Laurel or Havre in the 8 p.m. championship.
In Friday’s other loser-out game, Miles City ousted Belgrade 59-46.
Hamilton 44, Columbia Falls 39
Taylor Goligoski added 14 points for Hamilton (19-3), which built a 28-15 halftime lead and then held on for dear life in the fourth quarter.
The Wildkats (20-2) cut the gap to one twice, first when Haley Belgarde’s put back made it 38-37, and again when Ciera Finberg hit two free throws to bring Columbia Falls to 40-39 with 52 seconds left.
After Sami Kratofil hit two free throws for the Broncs, they fouled Columbia Falls to avoid giving up game-tying 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds. The strategy worked: Both Ciera and Cydney Finberg missed front ends of one-and-one free throws. Albert sealed the game with two freebies with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Hamilton, which dropped a 48-34 decision to Columbia Falls back in December, held its own on the boards against the bigger Wilkcats, who got 13 points from Ciera Finberg and 10 points and seven boards from Belgarde.
Goligoski and Kratofil had four rebounds each for the Broncs.
Hamilton won its sole State A title in 1984; that was also the last year the Broncs won a divisional title, until this season. The Broncos lost to Anaconda in the 2009 State A championship.