BILLINGS -- The Billings Central girls are no longer unbeaten.
The Rams scored the game’s opening bucket – an Isabelle Erickson 3-pointer -- but the Bulldogs ripped off a 12-0 run and led for the remainder of the game on their way to a 65-55 Southeast A conference victory on Friday night at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
Hardin nearly opened up a double-digit first quarter lead, but Billings Central trimmed Hardin’s lead to 16-15 by the end of the first quarter. The Bulldogs again opened up a nine-point lead in the second quarter, but Billings Central battled back to make it 26-21 at halftime.
Billings Central came back and tied the game on two separate occasions in the third quarter, but a putback at the buzzer by Juliana Takes Horse gave Hardin a four-point lead with eight minutes to play.
The Hardin lead was 48-47 when Ivery Fritzler buried a triple to put the Bulldogs up four. After a three-point play by Mya Hansen, Fritzler knocked down another 3-pointer – this one in front of the Hardin bench to put the Bulldogs up six with just over two minutes to play.
“That was big to give us some separation at that point,” Hardin head coach Cindy Farmer said. “Every time we got separation from them during the game they made a run, so that was huge to give us a little bigger lead late in the game.”
The Bulldogs were able to hit their free throws down the stretch to hold off any comeback effort that Central could mount. This game represented a stark difference from the previous meeting between the two teams. Billings Central led for nearly every
second of that game, while Hardin was in front for the majority of Friday’s contest.
“This has been a very emotional three weeks for us,” Farmer said. “The girls are tough. They held on to that lead all game, and they’ve just been so tough these past few weeks.”
Marie Five had her way with the Billings Central defense in their first meeting, scoring 28 points. Five was constantly double teamed by the Rams defense on Friday, but the Bulldogs got contributions from all over the floor to fill the void.
“(Billings Central) does a great job,” Farmer said. “They were sending two, three girls at (Five) every time she caught it. Our girls really stepped up tonight.”
Five finished with a team-high 14 points, but she was joined in double figures by Takes Horse (13), Nevaeh Alden (13) and Fritzler (10). Hansen led all scorers with 25 points.
Hardin is in action on Saturday at Livingston, while Billings Central gets Billings West on Tuesday night.
Although the Billings Central and Hardin boys have met for the previous two State A titles, the Bulldogs were expected to win Friday's game. Hardin nearly lost its unbeaten record, but it outlasted Billings Central in another classic in the rivalry.
Hardin opened the game on fire, scoring 25 first-quarter points and holding a 13-point lead after eight minutes. Billings Central began to chip away in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 42-31 at halftime.
The teams traded scores in the third quarter and Billings Central still trailed by 11 entering the fourth, but the Rams made it tight down the stretch. A Gabriel Penha Dos Santos triple with just over 4:30 to play cut the Hardin lead to four, 65-61.
Dos Santos buried another triple later to cut the Hardin lead to 74-73 with 1:14 to play. After a Hardin free throw, the Rams needed to score. Sophomore Brock Blatter scooped up a missed jump shot and banked in the bunny to tie the game at 75-all and force overtime, finishing off a 13-4 run by Central to close the quarter.
Blatter continued his heroics in the overtime period, catching an out-of-bounds play wide open underneath the hoop and finishing the layup with 20 seconds left to put the Rams up 83-82. Central then hit one free throw with 6.7 seconds left to go up two, but Peyton Good Luck sunk two free throw attempts with 1.4 seconds left to force a second overtime.
Hardin built a lead of five in the second overtime before holding on for a two-point win, 97-95.
Saturday won't get any easier for Hardin, as they travel to Livingston. It took a Famous Lefthand buzzer beater for Hardin to beat Livingston back in December.