BILLINGS — Wednesday night was supposed to be all about Damon Gros Ventre and the defending Class B co-champion Lodge Grass boys basketball team, but defending Class A co-champion Hardin had other plans. The Bulldogs defeated Lodge Grass, 63-56, at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings on a night when Gros Ventre passed the 1,000-point mark for his career.
Gros Ventre hit the milestone number in the first half, which led to a pause in the game as the crowd got on its feet to honor Lodge Grass's standout junior.
"It means a lot having my name up there with some of the greats at 1,000. It's just a dream come true since I was younger," Gros Ventre said.
"Damon is every coach's dream. Number one, because he loves his brothers and he wants to get them involved, wants to build them and make them better. And he just works extremely hard. He buys in. He does everything that's asked of him then goes the extra mile," Lodge Grass head coach Josh Stewart said. "For something like that to happen to him, I'm just happy for him."
Hardin, though, took control of the game shortly after. With the game tied at 18, Hardin went on an 11-5 spurt to grab some cushion and led 31-26 at halftime.
The Hardin lead ballooned to double digits in the second half, but Lodge Grass cut it inside five multiple times. A 3-pointer by Ty Moccasin cut the lead to four, 60-56, with 50.8 seconds left, as the Indians began to foul to extend the game.
The Bulldogs were able to ice the game from the foul line, as Kevion Ladson and Bryson Rogers sunk foul shots for Hardin in the final minute to seal it.
"We know it's a growth game. I like to say that because it's not our mountain top. For years it used to be the one game everyone focused on. It's a great rivalry, but we still want them to succeed on that level. They're still Apsaalooke or Crow just like we are, they're our relatives over there, and we want them to succeed," Stewart said of the rivalry. "We want to make them better, and they make us better, for sure. We want to make sure that we understand how they built their program. Just by playing the right way, playing physical and keeping their composure. I feel like we didn't do that."
First Interstate Arena sold 2,900 tickets for Wednesday night's game, allowing a semblance of normalcy pertaining to the atmosphere in the gym.
"It felt like last year at divisionals," Gros Ventre said in reference to the crowd at the 2020 Southern B divisional tournament. "It was just fun. It was fun to play in front of everybody."
"We figured that might be the most we'll have until tournaments maybe," Stewart said. "We're thankful for our fans. We're thankful that they were here. The boys just think about our fans and they play for them."
Gros Ventre led all scorers with 23 points, while Ladson poured in 18 for Hardin.
In the first game back at First Interstate Arena since the shutdown of the State A basketball tournaments on March 13, 2020, the Hardin girls pulled away from Lodge Grass for a 64-31 win.
The Bulldogs had four players in double figures led by Aiyana Big Man's 20 points. Hardin led by 12 at halftime and 20 after three quarters. Diamond Amyotte had nine points on three 3-pointers to lead Lodge Grass.
Lodge Grass is in action on Thursday at Lame Deer. Hardin is back at it Saturday against Laurel.