BOZEMAN – For the first time since 1997, the Hardin Bulldogs are the Class A boys basketball state champions.
Hardin overcame a double-digit first-half deficit to knock off Billings Central in the state championship game 47-43 Saturday night at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
“I don’t think my heart’s ever beat that fast before,” Hardin head coach Andrew RoundFace said after the victory. “Knowing the clock was going down, knowing we had (the title) … All the energy out here, all these fans — this is a huge deal for our community. It’s been too long. Twenty-one years is way too long for any school to raise a trophy up. It’s hard to find words right now for everything.”
“Just hard work paying off. All the early mornings, just everything paying off right now,” Hardin’s Famous LeftHand said.
“It feels like we accomplished what we started,” fellow Bulldog senior David Evans said. “The thing is to stay positive. When you get down, that’s when you don’t play to your full potential. Whenever we have some fun and play some ball, the Bulldogs can do a lot.”
Billings Central raced out to a 13-2 advantage in the opening minutes, but Hardin closed the first half on a 14-3 run to get within 29-27 at the break.
“We didn’t know where it was going to come from. We didn’t know if it was going to come from Chrishon (Dixon), if it was going to come from Seth Sasich, or Jae Hugs or anybody,” RoundFace said. “They have so many weapons that they can beat us with, but we focused on Chrishon and tried to take him out of it. We didn’t do a real good job, but we took their best punch. … It knocked us backwards a little bit, but we came charging back.”
The two teams traded blows throughout the final half. Hardin grabbed its first lead of the game at the 5:09 mark of the third quarter on a Kaden Redfield 3-pointer from the corner. Neither team would score the remainder of the quarter.
Hardin trailed 39-37 when Evans stepped out and buried a triple from straight on to give the Bulldogs a one-point lead.
Chrishon Dixon answered right back, knifing through the defense and finishing at the rim. With Hardin leading 45-43, LeftHand grabbed his own rebound off of a missed free throw, flipped it behind his back to Cayden Redfield who kissed it off the glass, giving Hardin a five-point lead with 21 seconds to play.
Billings Central buried another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two, but LeftHand knocked down two more free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining to seal the Bulldogs’ victory.
Evans, the Bulldogs’ emotional and vocal leader, had a double-double to finish off his high school career, notching 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Evans was a monster on the offensive glass snatching six of his 10 rebounds off teammates’ misses.
“(David) keeps us up when we’re down, he’s our vocal leader,” RoundFace said. “These boys trust him, they look up to him, they believe in him, and that’s just something he’s always been about. He got us back into this game (Saturday).”
Dixon finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Rams, who placed second for the third consecutive year. Billings Central lost to Dillon in both the 2016 and 2017 championship games.