It was business as usual for Laurel in the first round of the State A boys basketball tournament.
The hot-shooting Locomotives built a huge fourth-quarter lead, but watched as it all but disappeared in the waning minutes. Still, Laurel made enough free throws -- 13 in the final 4:14, actually -- to hold off Columbia Falls 59-50 on Thursday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
Brett Thompson led Laurel with 25 points, making 7 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter and 10 of 15 overall.
Even though their lead dissipated, the Locomotives held on for their 20th victory of the season, which pushed them into a Friday night semifinal against Stevensville.
“We got too complacent. We thought we had it in the bag,” Thompson said. “We relaxed a little too much, and Columbia Falls had a lot of fight in them. Next game, we can’t let that happen.”
After an opening quarter that had 10 lead changes, Laurel finally took control in the second on the strength of its perimeter shooting.
The Locomotives were 6 for 9 from 3-point range in the opening half, and grabbed a 24-17 advantage on an Evan Jones trey with 5:21 on the clock. Jones scored nine of his 17 points in the second quarter, including a transition layup that built a nine-point lead with 16 seconds before halftime.
Thompson converted a pair of three-point plays to extend the advantage in the third, and Taylor Maida scored five consecutive points at the outset of the fourth quarter as the Locomotives grabbed a 45-25 lead.
“We came out very confident and I thought we executed well on the offensive side,” said Laurel coach Pat Hansen. “We got some good shots off of rhythm, and I thought that helped us and the kids got some confidence early on.”
“Coach Hansen told us to come into the game confident and let it fly,” said Thompson, who made of 10 shots from the floor. “Don’t hold back and let it rip. I think that really gave us confidence, and the shots were falling.”
Defensively, Laurel did its job. Limiting Columbia Falls to one-shot possessions, the Locos held the Wildcats without a field goal for a 13:15 stretch until Colin King’s basket at the 6:50 mark of the fourth quarter.
But the Wildcats, perennial title contenders, didn’t go quietly.
King’s hoop sparked a 25-10 scoring run that allowed Columbia Falls to pare their deficit to 55-50 with 1:06 remaining on Luke Kazlauskas’ drive to the rim.
That forced Laurel to close the game from the foul line, which it did by making 13 of 18 in the final four minutes.
Wildcats’ coach Cary Finberg applauded his team’s fourth quarter performance. But the reason his team lost was obvious.
“We dug ourselves a hole, but I’m proud of our kids for battling back,” Finberg said. “But you add it up all together … they’re a good team and when you go 13 minutes without scoring a field goal, you’re not going to win.”
Maida added 13 points for the Locomotives, and hit 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Laurel was 8 for 14 from beyond the arc, and shot 55 percent from the field overall.
Trevor Houston led Columbia Falls with 13 points, 10 of which he scored in the fourth quarter. Kazlauskas had 12 and Jared Trinastich added 11.
The Wildcats, now 15-6, dropped into a Friday loser-out game against Browning. Stevensville beat Browning 65-64 in another first-round contest Thursday.
As for the 20-2 Locomotives, they’re back in the semifinal round as they chase their second title since 2010.
“Today’s game was the most important game, but (Friday’s) game is now the most important game,” Hansen said. “If you can put together a three-game winning streak here at the state tournament, things are good for you.”
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Gavlak's layup lifts Stevi over Browning, 65-64
After preaching for two weeks to feed the ball down low, the Stevensville Yellowjackets delivered just in the nick of time.
In a matchup featuring two of the top three win-loss records in the state, Stevensville’s Zach Gavlak scored a layup with 11 seconds remaining to give the Yellowjackets a thrilling 65-64 win over Browning in the first round of the State A boys basketball tournament Thursday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
Gavlak’s layup was one of many game changing baskets in a heart-stopping fourth quarter that featured 10 lead changes, six in the final two minutes.
“Our team was very focused all week,” said Gavlak, the 6-foot-4 junior who finished with 12 points and overcame committing a team-high 11 turnovers.
“We did what we needed to do down the stretch and got down the floor quick. Once I got the pass and put up the shot, it felt amazing. More than anything, it’s nice to celebrate with my team for the first win of the tournament.”
After a fast-paced first quarter that featured four ties and four lead changes, Stevensville (18-3) went on a run early in the second frame establishing a seven-point advantage that they held until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Using a frantic full-court pressure defense that forced Stevensville to commit a season-high 31 turnovers, Browning (17-4) finally broke through in the fourth quarter and grabbed a 47-46 lead with 7:32 remaining -- its first since the 2:23 mark in the first quarter when it was ahead 15-14.
“We generally don’t play that up-tempo style, that’s more open gym type stuff and if you’re not ready for it, it’s hard to simulate that,” said Keith Chambers, who is in his 22nd season as coach at Stevensville. “We were just fortunate we were ahead when time ran out.”
After taking the lead and forcing another turnover, Browning capitalized on a key three-point play from Jalen Croff to cap an 8-0 run and take its largest lead of the game, 50-46.
After that, Chambers called a timeout to emphasize to his team to feed the post more, and that’s exactly what the Yellowjackets did. Jesse Sims scored on a layup, and then on the next trip down the floor had a three-point play of his own to help Stevensville regain the lead 51-50.
Sims finished with a team-high 20 points converting on 8 of 9 free throw attempts and added nine rebounds.
“They didn’t do anything different than we thought, they just had more energy then we did in the second half,” said Chambers. “You have to fight fire with fire and our decision making was suspect at times, but it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say you should have done things differently. Again, we were very fortunate enough to win at the end.”
DeeJay Lazy Boy had a game-high 25 points for Browning, but missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key just after time expired in the fourth quarter.
“I was waiting for Stevensville to crack because we were going hard at them for the last two quarters,” said first-year Browning coach Mark Magee. “I knew they were tired and I thought a couple times we let them rest when we should have attacked. They found their second wind a couple of times and that was the difference in the game. They are a great team and knew what it would take to get the job done.”
Stevensville, which has never won a boys state basketball championship, will face Laurel in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday in a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in Class A the majority of the season. Laurel defeated Columbia Falls 59-50 on Thursday.
Columbia Falls and Browning will square off Friday at 12:30 p.m. in a loser-out contest.
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Billings Central reaches semis, awaits Maroons or Panthers
BILLINGS — Daniel Meyer scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds tonight to lead the hometown Billings Central Rams to the semifinals of the Class A State boys’ basketball tournament.
The Rams beat Frenchtown 56-42 to set up a match against Butte Central or Belgrade at 8 p.m. Friday.
In other action, Stevensville beat Browning 65-64 and Laurel topped Columbia Falls 59-50. The Yellowjackets and Locomotives will meet in Friday’s 6:30 semifinal.
Blayne Sandau added 15 points in the win for BC, while Jacob Stanton scored seven points and handed out seven assists.
Kyle Cyr scored 11 points to lead the Broncs.
FRENCHTOWN — John Chapman 3-13 1-2 7, Levi Shepard 3-5 0-0 7, Daniel Lebsock 2-5 1-2 6, Andrew Honken 0-2 0-0 0, Bridger Truett 1-5 0-2 3, Kyle Cyr 3-5 4-7 11, Matt Price 3-9 2-5 8 Chris Delaey 0-1 0-0 0, Jordan Moe 0-0 0-0 0, Bobby Erbaugh 0-0 0-0 0, Elie Marceau 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-45 8-18 42.
BILLINGS CENTRAL — Jacob Stanton 3-4 1-1 9, Riley Nichols 0-1 0-0 0, Holden Ryan 0-0 0-0 0, Ian Byorth 1-2 0-0 3, Garrett Flaming 0-1 0-0 0, Connor Cerkovnik 2-5 0-2 5, Blayne Sandau 6-10 0-0 15, Bryce Hawbaker 0-1 0-0 0, Daniel Meyer 7-12 5-7 19, DylanHanser 4-5 0-0 8.
Frenchtown 14 6 15 7 — 42
Central 15 17 11 13 — 56
3-point goals — Frenchtown 8-18 (Cyr 4-7, Price 2-5, Chapman 1-2, Lebsock 1-2), BC 6-15 (Meyer 5-7, Stanton 1-2, Ryan 0-2, Cerkovnik 0-3, Flamming 0-1, Hanser 0-1). Rebounds — Frenchtown 26 (Cyr 6), BC 34 (Meyer 11). Assists — Frenchtown 8 (Chapman 3), BC 14 (Stanton). Steals — Frenchtown 8 (Lebsock 3, Cyr 3), BC 5 (Meyer 3). Blocks — Frenchtown 0, C 6 (Meyer 4, Sandau 2). Turnovers — Frenchtown 13, BC 20. Fouls — Frenchtown 14, BC 13. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.
Maroons battle to win opener
BILLINGS — The recipe for victory for Butte Central Friday night at the Class A State boys’ basketball tournament wasn’t anything overly complicated.
The Maroons simply outfought the Panthers.
Butte Central advanced to the semifinals — where they’ll meet Billings Central at 8 p.m. Friday — by turning back Belgrade 39-34 in a defensive battle at the Rimrock Auto Arena.
“No game this time of year is going to be easy,” said BC junior guard Kale Guldseth, who scored a team-leading 11 points to help the Maroons reach the semifinals for the sixth time in nine years. “It was pure guts and effort. Knocking down some shots and making plays at the end of the game is what won it for us.”
Guldseth hit Butte Central’s last shot, and it was the team’s biggest. He sank a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left in the game to put the Maroons on top 30-24.
“That shot Kale hit was a big one,” said BC coach Brodie Kelly, who directed the Maroons to State eight times in his nine years at the helm. “It was kind of that little separation that we needed.”
The Maroons squeaked out the win despite hitting only 7 of 12 free tosses in the game’s final 2:09.
“We missed a lot of free throws in the last three minutes,” Kelly said. “With that said, though, we were still getting a lot of stops. We also did a great job not turning the ball over when they were trapping. They’ve got some long guys, and Nate, Brady and Kale did a good job there.”
Nothing came easy for the Maroons in the final game of the night.
Every time it looked as if the Maroons were about to take command, the Panthers struck back.
Jerem Rager hit a 3-pointer from the top to start an 8-0 in the final 1:31 of the first quarter, turning a 7-0 BC lead into an 8-7 Belgrade advantage after the first quarter.
The Maroons forced Belgrade turnovers on the team’s first five possessions and outscored Belgrade 8-3 in the second quarter.
A Nate Bolstad three-point play sent the Maroons into the locker room with a 15-11 lead.
“It was great defense by both teams,” Kelly said.
The coach, though, took a ton of pride in how his team performed on that end, especially considering how Belgrade’s 45-40 win over BC Feb. 5 in Belgrade played out.
“A month ago in Belgrade we were so bad defensively,” Kelly said. “It was like 23-5 in the first 10 minutes. We looked so silly. They were cutting on us, beating us on the dribble. I think it shows a lot of work these guys put in in the last month. We were not a great defensive team a month ago, but that was a good effort.”
The Maroons built a 19-14 lead midway through the third quarter. Again, BC couldn’t take an easy breath, and Brandon Karnath turned a 3-point play before Ragar hit a fade-away jumper to tie the game at 19 with 3:53 left in the third.
“They hit some big shots,” Guldseth said. “We kept letting them back in it. You can’t do that in a game like this. We’re pretty fortunate to come out on top. ”
Dalton Sessions scored off a nice Bolstad pass to start a 6-0 Maroon run the next time down the court. BC led the rest of the way.
Guldseth’s three was BC’s lone field goal of the fourth quarter. They did the rest of their damage — or just enough, as it turns out — from the free throw line.
Senior Brady Tippett scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds for the maroons, while Bolstad added eight points and six boards, Sessions scored five off the Bench, Marcus Ferriter tossed in three and Connor McGree netted two.
Danny Peoples, Emmett McCarthy and Chad Peterson also contributed for the Maroons, who improved to 15-7 on the season.
Daniel Meyer, a 6-foot-9 senior, scored 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead Billings Central to a 56-42 win over Frenchtown to send the Rams to the semis. Laurel will play Stevensville in the other side.
Butte Central didn’t play Billings Central, which is coached by Anaconda native and former Billings Senior coach Jim Stergar, this season.
“We want to get one tomorrow,” Kelly said. “We haven’t played against a Stergar-coached team, and they’ve got some real athletes for sure.”
BELGRADE (13-8) — Jeremy Ragar 4-14 0-0 10, Drew Fowler 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Stubbs 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Townsend 0-5 0-0 0,Jared Bryant 3-8 0-0 8, Brandon Karnath 5-12 1-1 14, Shilon Christopher 0-1 2-2 2, Trevor Mahn 0-3 0-0 0.
BUTTE CENTRAL (15-7) — Kale Guldseth 3-6 4-6 11, Conner McGree 0-0 2-4 2, Brady Tippett 3-7 3-5 10, Marcus Ferriter 1-2 1-2 3, Nate Bolstad 2-8 4-5 8, Danny Peoples 0-2 0-0 0, Emmett McCarthy 0-0 0-0 0, Dalton Sessions 2-3 1-3 5, Chad Peterson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-28 15-25 39.
Belgrade 8 3 11 12 — 34
Central 7 8 10 14 — 39
3-point goals — Belgrade 7-24 (Karnath 3-9, Ragar 2-5, Bryant 2-6, Mahn 0-3, Townsend 0-1), BC 2-6 (Guldseth 1-2, Tippett 1-2, Bolstad 0-2). Assists — Belgrade 8 (Ragar 2, Townsend 2, Christopher 2), BC 6 (Tippett 2, Ferriter 2). Steals — Belgrade 4 (Rgar, Townsend, Bryant, Christopher), BC 5 (Bolstad 3, Guldseth, McCarthy). Blocks — Belgrade 2 (Townsend 2), BC 0. Turnovers — Belgrade 16, BC 14. Fouls — Belgrade 19, BC 9. Fouled out — Mahn. Technicals — none.