Allie Lucas wouldn’t even let the game’s final pass go uncontested.
Instead, Billings Central’s 5-foot-5 junior leapt, intercepted the ball with two hands, then took a few dribbles for a layup just before the final buzzer sounded.
It was a meaningless two points, but it was a play that exhibited the Eastern A Rams’ work ethic in their 58-45 win over Billings West of the Eastern AA on Friday night at the Nelles Activities Center.
Lucas was her usual pesky self, scoring a game-high 24 points as Central closed its regular season on a three-game winning streak on the heels of a three-game losing streak.
“It was real confidence-builder and that’s what we wanted to do,” said Lucas, who scored 10 points in the third quarter, including a buzzer-beating 3 that sent the Rams into the final eight minutes with a 38-28 lead. “We kind of wanted to make a statement after our three losses in a row. I hope that’s what we did.”
Sammy Elliott added 11 points, Justyn Juhl 10 and Melissa Koerber had nine as the Rams took control of the game behind a second quarter in which they outscored West 17-3. The Lady Bears got within 30-28 on a three-point play by Steph Boehm with 2:25 left in the third quarter, but Lucas scored the game’s next eight points to put the Rams back up by 10.
The closest West got after that was 45-39 after consecutive baskets by Mika Robinson and Erin Schreibeis. The Bears were outscored 13-6 down the stretch, though, and left coach Scott Nichols lamenting the decisive second quarter when they let a 13-7 lead slip away.
“Sometimes if you’re being out-athleticized, there’s nothing you can do about it. But being out-worked? There’s something you can do about that,” said Nichols, whose team scored the first nine points of the game, then allowed a 7-0 Central run. “Unfortunately, it only happened for one quarter tonight, I felt. But that quarter sure cost us.”
Robinson finished with 21 points to lead the Bears (8-8), who lost for the first time in four games. Boehm and KC Christensen both had eight. Christensen scored six of her points in the first 80 seconds of the game, but after the first quarter the 6-1 post had just five shot attempts the rest of the game.
“We talked about playing harder and guarding somebody,” said Central coach Jeff Malby, who called a timeout after a 3-pointer from Robinson gave West a 9-0 lead with 4:50 still on the clock in the first quarter. “We just started competing harder and not taking defensive possessions off. We did that collectively, it wasn’t just a couple people who got after it, we did it as five, and some things started happening.”
The Rams made 20 of 27 free throws and Juhl (eight rebounds), Elliott (seven) and Koerber (seven) helped them to a 41-28 advantage on the boards in what was one of the team’s most complete games in a while. They’ll begin the Eastern A divisional tournament with a first-round game Thursday.
“It seems like we’re really coming together as a team, playing hard and getting ready for divisionals,” Koerber said. “We’re just clicking so well. Every game is important, but when we can beat a AA team it means we’re working really hard. We do it for each other.”
West, which played the game without starter Samirah Dennis (leg contusion) is at Butte on Saturday as the Bears continue to fight for a home playoff berth.
Lewistown 56, Livingston 39
Lewistown — Megan Schoenen 9, Katie Buckley 4, Macy Ricketts 11, Mia Stewart 4, Callie Ellingson 5, Mariel Kelley 2, Aylssa Bergsing 4.
Lewistown — Mikaela Olson 14, Nicole Karhi 5, Kailey Grover 8, Jessica Kendzeski 6, Tara Olson 2, Beth Wright 9, Janea Manz 12.