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Billings West 'football' guys navigating late hoops run

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Posted at 1:25 PM, Mar 03, 2021

BILLINGS -- Billings West High's basketball guys aren't built on finesse this season.

"We've got some size inside, we're not 6-(foot)-8, but we're 6-4, athletic and strong," Bears head coach Kelly Darragh told MTN Sports.

Forward Zach Erbacher is also seeing the physicality pay off.

"I think we're coming with a lot more height and speed, and more physicality, so that should be able to help," Erbacher said.

What you see is what you get, and the Bears have no problem with that. At times, they're a football team on the basketball court -- a football team that nearly punched out perfect, coming up just short in last November's Class AA state championship game.

"I think the days of having those football players come out that aren't the most skilled, I think those are gone," Darragh said. "You look at Neil Daily, was an all-state football player, was an all-state basketball player for us last year. Paul Brott was probably one of the best defensive centers in the state last year. The Dowler twins, Zach Erbacher ... we do have football players, but I'd say we have more athletes than anything that are capable of doing, obviously, more than one sport."

That football physicality hasn't always been enough to keep them in basketball games this season, but it's typically enough to give the Bears (7-7) a chance. They've out-muscled opponents to win three of their last four games entering Thursday's all-or-nothing State AA play-in game at Billings Senior (8-6). All Class AA pairings can be seen here.

"One of the best things we have here at West High may be our strength and conditioning coach in Mark Johnston," Darragh said. "I don't think there are going to be as many teams, and I don't think there have been in the last couple years, that have been as strong as us."

The Bears enter Thursday's showdown as a No. 5 seed and used a giant second half to beat fourth-seeded Senior by double digits in their most recent meeting. That victory was also West's first over a team with a winning record this season and helped spur their recent run.

All-state football player and Montana State commit Paul Brott -- a post player for the Bears -- described West's style to MTN Sports early this season as a bit of backyard basketball. Erbacher doesn't dispute it.

"It kind of gets scrappy here and there," he said. "We'll come down on fast breaks a lot just because we're a really scrappy team. We're always on the go."

They've scored some entertaining baskets this season. As for any designed, back-door, throw-it-down options?

"I don't know," Darragh laughed. "We've got a couple kids that can dunk it, but I don't know if we have any that can catch a lob and dunk it. That could be pretty ugly if we try to do that in a game right now."

Just when you least expect it, don't be stunned if the upstart Bears give it a shot.