Hardin reached the mountaintop in 2018, winning its first Class A title in more than 20 years by beating Billings Central. Last year the Bulldogs had to swallow a tough pill, as the rival Rams celebrated a championship at their expense. That loss has lingered with Hardin, and it’s a feeling they don’t want to experience again.
“As soon as we stepped off the court last season, seeing them celebrate, it burned into our soul." Hardin head coach Andrew Round Face said. "It’s just been bothering us. It’s something that’s never left our minds. We’re competitors. When you lose to somebody you remember them. You remember that face, you remember who it is wherever you see them. Next time you go against them you’re going to want to go after them.”
“Last year hurt pretty bad," said Eric Woods. "We’ve been thinking about that game all summer in the gym. We were working on that and waiting to get our payback.”
The Bulldogs are led by a trio of seniors that were big pieces in the 2018 title run. After last year’s bitter defeat, another championship run would be that much sweeter.
“This has been their lifetime dream, to win a state championship," Round Face said. "They got one and they know how good it feels. They got that rush, that adrenaline you get from winning a state title, and they want it again. They want to win one before they leave. I’m just going to do my best to help them get there.”
“That first year felt great, second year coming back thinking we could have went back-to-back, but it just slipped out of our hands," senior Cayden Redfield said. "It really hurt the heck out of all of us. This year, no mercy. We’re trying to kick everybody’s butts.”
Hardin had trounced its first few opponents of the year, but Livingston took the Bulldogs to the brink before Hardin was bailed out by a Famous Lefthand buzzer beater. Complacency could wind up being the biggest threat to the Bulldogs’ championship hopes.
“I do, I get worried about it a little bit, but Famous has a really good head on his shoulders," said Round Face. "That’s why he’s my captain. He knows what I want, and I don’t have to say anything. I’ve just got to give him a look and he knows what I mean. We just have that connection right now that looks are all we have to do. We don’t even have to say anything anymore.”
Lefthand is also the athlete that catches everyone’s attention when he steps in the gymnasium. The Rocky Mountain College commit has been a household name, and for good reason. He’s developed one of the most lethal fadeaway jumpers in the state during his time at Hardin, and the Bulldogs will likely ride their star when he’s needed most.
“He surprises me day in and day out in what he’s capable of. I just sit there, I’m like everybody else in the gym. I’m a fan and I’m here to watch him. I know he’s going to put on a show, so I’m here to watch," Round Face said. "He’s just put in so much work into that shot. When he does it, you’re pretty sure it’s going in. There’s really nothing you can do about it.”
A few pieces from the last two seasons remain on Hardin’s roster, but this year’s team has formed its own identity – one that was shaped by last season’s heartbreak.
“We’re more aggressive. We know how to get there, we’ve been to the title game twice, so we know how to get there and what it takes to get there," Round Face said. "Now everybody is just seeing our frustration that we built up through the offseason and the summer. All the things that we’re doing right now is just our frustration from the offseason that’s carrying onto the court right now.”