BILLINGS — Havre’s girls are right where they’re expected to be. Meanwhile, Hardin put the brakes on a renewal Billings Central’s rivalry with the Blue Ponies.
Havre moved into the Eastern A girls semifinals for the third straight year with a commanding victory over Laurel on Friday. The Blue Ponies will play Hardin, which knocked off Central in a thriller at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
The championship between the Blue Ponies and Bulldogs will tip off Saturday at 5 p.m.
Havre 57, Laurel 43
Havre lost a three-point decision to Laurel in its season opener at home on Dec. 2. It was part of an 0-2 start for the Blue Ponies.
There was no repeat in Friday’s rematch, as Havre got 15 points from senior Avery Carlson and a combined 27 from freshmen Amaya Jarvis and Ariana Gary in a 57-43 victory. The win sends the Blue Ponies, the two-time reigning state champions, to the Eastern A title game for the third straight year.
“We grew up a little bit,” Carlson said, comparing the start of the season to now. “We have a young team, but those girls have really bought in to what we stand for. So from the beginning of the season I think we’ve really grown up together.”
Jarvis and Gary, unfazed by tournament pressure, had 14 and 13 points, respectively. They have come into their own as first-year players, but Havre also benefits from the inside presence of Yelena Miller, who was injured at the start of the year. Miller added 10 points and seven rebounds as the Blue Ponies had all their pieces working. The team shot 49% from the floor and defensively force Laurel into 19 giveaways.
The Locomotives were paced by Idaho State-bound Alyse Aby, who scored 23 points. Emma Timm added eight. Laurel dropped into a loser-out game against Miles City Saturday morning.
The win clinched another state tourney berth for Havre, which has now won 11 straight games.
“Tomorrow’s the fun game,” Carlson said. “We got our invitation to state today, so tomorrow we’re going into that game like, ‘Man, this is what we work for. These are the games you work for.’ It’s going to be fun.”
Hardin 41, Billings Central 38
Aianna Big Man didn’t have time to think. With time winding down on the shot clock and precious seconds remaining in the game, Big Man took a pass from Katerena Morrison — who yelled, ‘Shoot it!’ as she let go of the ball — and Big Man obliged with a huge 3-pointer that proved to be the difference in Hardin’s 41-38 semifinal win.
Big Man’s shot gave the Bulldogs a 41-35 advantage, which rendered a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Central’s Jessa Larson moot.
The win clinched a state tourney berth for Hardin, perhaps surprisingly; the Rams had beaten the Bulldogs twice in the regular season, and a Havre-vs.-Central title game was probably expected to develop as it had in each of the past two years.
“We knew a lot of people were saying it was going to be them,” Big Man said. “We had to prove them wrong. It’s like it says on our shirts: ‘Make them believe.’ I think we did.”
Big Man scored 15 points for Hardin, and hit 3 of 5 3-pointers, none bigger than her last. Morrison added nine points, and also hit 3 of 5 from the arc.
The Rams, who now face a loser-out game Saturday at 9 a.m. against Lewistown, saw their four-year reign as Eastern A champs come to an end. Freshman Kamryn Reinker led Central with 17 points and 13 rebounds. The team made just 2 of 19 3s.
During tournament time, “it’s anybody’s game,” Big Man said. “The regular season, that’s an old season. This is a new season.”