GREAT FALLS — Friday wasn't championship night at the State A boys basketball tournament, but it was dramatic enough to feel like it. The Dillon Beavers survived in a thrilling double-overtime semifinal victory over Laurel to advance to the championship, while Billings Central broke out in the third quarter to hold off Polson.
Dillon 55, Laurel 48
The first half of Friday's first State A boys semifinal was relatively slow. The finish was anything but, as the Dillon boys secured a spot in the state championship for the first time since 2017 with a 55-48 double-overtime win over Laurel.
In the first half, each team had seven turnovers, more than their respective field goals. Dillon took a 16-9 lead into the break.
Dillon led 35-25 in the fourth quarter after a Jonathan Kirkley 3-pointer, but the Locomotives responded with a 13-2 run, capped off by Colter Bales bucket inside to give Laurel its first lead. Dillon took the lead back again with a Cole Truman basket, but Wylee Schnetter tied the game for Laurel with a bank shot in the final minute to send the game to overtime.
Richard Cortese, who had a quiet game earlier, scored five quick points inside to give the Locomotives a 45-40 lead in the first overtime, but Dillon came back with a Jace Fitzgerald 3-pointer and a Connor Curnow score off a backdoor cut to tie it at 45-45, resulting in another overtime.
In double overtime, Laurel went cold, and the Beavers connected on their double-bonus free throws to seal the victory.
"We knew we just had to stay the process," Truman said. "No matter if we’re down 5, up 5, we knew we had to play the same exact way. Keep that same intensity and try to battle all the way back, and that’s exactly what we did."
Truman led Dillon with 18 points, while Curnow had 17.
Schnetter had 13 points for Laurel, and Cortese followed with 11. Laurel will play a 9 a.m. loser-out game against Butte Central.
Billings Central 58, Polson 49
Malachai Stewart scored 16 points and Billings Central broke out in the third quarter to beat Polson 58-49 in the State A boys semifinal. Central returns to the title game for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
After trailing 28-26 at halftime, the Rams opened the second half on an 11-2 run, forcing a Polson timeout. The Pirates managed just seven points in the quarter, while the Rams fortified their momentum when Cayden Merchant beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter. Central then held off a valiant effort from Polson sophomore Jarrett Wilson, who finished with 20 points.
Merchant finished with 11 points for Central, as did Brock Blatter, who also recorded seven rebounds.
“We know it’s not going to be given to us. When it’s going back and forth like that, it’s just a matter of who wants it more," said Stewart. "It’s just a stage to show how much work you put in during the season.”
Xavier Fisher followed Wilson with 13 points for the Pirates, who will play Ronan in loser-out action at 9 a.m. That game will be played at C.M. Russell High School.