BILLINGS – Here we go again. Two more chapters in the oldest rivalry in Yellowstone County.
Billings Central and Laurel square off in a one-two boys and girls basketball punch Friday and Saturday, both games in Laurel.
“There’s a lot of history between parents and families from the schools,” smiled Locomotives boys coach Pat Hansen, “and there’s a lot of probably side bets going on.”
We’ll set the line as a ‘pick-em’ on both sides.
Laurel’s girls are the only unbeaten team left in the Eastern A thanks to a frenetic pace set by Aspen Cotter and Sammi Spitzer.
“Our transition offense has been really effective,” said Laurel girls coach Amber Griffith. “Some of the passes that Sammi and Aspen make on the break are pretty impressive.”
“Me and Sammy play really good together. We played soccer together, as well, so that really helps,” said Cotter. “And conditioning – I guess we’re in shape – so we like to play fast.”
“That’s definitely probably an advantage for us, since we are kind of limited with height,” Spitzer said.
It’s Spitzer’s politically correct way of saying Laurel is short, which will make stopping Central tough because the Rams’ game plan can be summed up in three words: Olivia Moten-Schell.
“She’s just a player,” said Central coach Jett Ailes. “She’s got a knack for the ball, she demands the basketball. Everybody knows that. Everybody looks to shut her down every night, and that just shows a lot about who she is. She handles the pressure.”
After admittedly feeling a little lost as a freshman, the sophomore scored 36 points last month against Billings Skyview, three shy of Jenny Heringer’s all-time Central record.
“I think last year I was just scared of high school basketball,” Moten-Schell said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but this year Jett has helped me with everything. I feel like I’m getting better.”
“She’s really come out of her shell, even more than last year,” agreed Rams teammate Chloe Paharik. “I love playing with her because we just feed off each other and the energy she brings is incredible.”
Laurel’s crowd figures to match it Friday. Central played a tournament-type game 10 days ago in a double-overtime loss to Hardin, which the boys then surpassed as the Rams fell in three overtimes.
“The atmosphere was the reason why we wanted it at Metra, get that tournament feel,” said Central boys coach Jim Stergar. “I mean, it’s a great to get a conference win, but the experience is the biggest part of that.”
That’s what Chrishon Dixon has now gained: experience. The do-it-all point guard can do just that.
“We all knew he was quick, he could handle the ball, he could pass the ball,” said Stergar, “but he’s had multiple games with three 3-pointers in a game, and when a kid like that can shoot the 3 – which he can – then he’s a complete player now.”
Dillon dared Dixon to shoot in last year’s State A title game. That stuck with the lefty.
“Ever since we lost the championship, that next day I just got in the gym and stayed in the gym,” Dixon said, “constantly even during football season, just trying to improve my game, just so we can finally get over that hump, and that won’t be my flaw.”
“He’s a monster defensively, which I don’t think he gets enough credit for,” Central’s Liam Clancy said. “The dude’s guarding the best player every single night and still doing what he does down there. I think he’s the best player in the state.”
Luckily for Laurel, the Locos’ strength is defense.
“We’ve been playing really good on defense and executing and everything, but everything after that, we’ve just got to keep going,” said Laurel’s Gage Leischner.
Leischner and Camden Hill lead the team offensively.
“Cam and Gage are good basketball players,” said Hansen. “They took a little extra pressure on themselves early in the year, and now it’s balancing out, and they’re starting to play a little more free, which is nice.”
Laurel’s boys host Central Saturday, and they know the Train Gang will be ready.
“Oh, it’s crazy,” said Hill. “The crowd’s just going wild, and you just got to be focused, you got to be locked in, and just ready to play.”