BILLINGS -- If Thursday night's boys basketball finish between Billings Senior and Billings Central is foreshadowing of what to expect in 2020, simply buckling up for safety won't be enough.
The Rams, last year's State A champions, scored only 14 points in the first half and trailed Class AA Senior by 13 at the break. They trailed by 11 in the fourth quarter before turning up a smothering defense that sparked fast-break points and a 51-50 win at the buzzer inside Central's Nelles Center.
Adding to the frenzy was the thrill of career coaching win No. 300 for Jim Stergar.
Trailing 47-36 with just more than four minutes left, Brock Blatter hit a corner 3 launching Central's rally into motion. The Rams would force turnovers on four straight possessions and cut the lead to four when Marcus Wittman hit a fast-break layup. Then off another turnover with 1:29 left, Wittman cut the lead to 47-46 on a 3-pointer from the right corner.
Senior stopped the bleeding when Morgan Harmon broke free inside for a layup increasing the lead to 49-46. The Broncs would add a free throw for a 50-46 lead with less than a minute to play before Nate Sasich, with a hand in his face and 20 seconds left, buried a 3-pointer to draw Central within 50-49.
As time ticked away, the Rams chose not to foul, instead pressuring with hustle defense. Central's Junior Brackenridge chased down Senior's Junior Bergen and tipped the ball free to Blatter who dived on the floor and narrowly saved it before sliding out of bounds. Blatter lobbed it to Sasich, who pushed it ahead to Brackenridge, who found Wittman again in the right corner. This time, instead of launching a 3, Wittman dribbled baseline through traffic and with a hand in his face, lofted a game-winning floater softly through the net as time expired.
Chaos and celebration ensued as students funneled onto the floor with Stergar wildly pumping his fist and chest bumping players.
Wittman led all scorers with 19 points, including 14 in the second half for Central (3-2).
Bergen tallied 13, followed by Eliason with 11 for the Broncs (2-3).