GREAT FALLS — Hunter Omlid refused to let his Hamilton boys lose.
Omlid poured in 17 points in the second half to help the Broncs top Livingston, 54-51, in the first round of the State A boys basketball tournament at Pacific Steel & Recycling Four Seasons Arena on Thursday.
“He’s a phenomenal player. He’s started since his freshman year. He’s really been a program changer, from where we were before him to where we’re at now. A lot of it is just his hard work and dedication,” Hamilton head coach Travis Blome said of Omlid.
“Being a senior leader, you’ve just got to do that sometimes,” Omlid said. “We picked it up on the defensive end as a team, so that allowed me to do some things offensively.”
Hamilton, which led for the majority of the game, briefly gave up the lead in the final moments of the third quarter when Carson Rostad was hit with a technical foul for punching the ball toward the Livingston bench after being called for a shooting foul.
Livingston took full advantage, hitting 3 of 4 free throws before Versland buried a triple to tie the game at 34 – a six-point possession for the Rangers. On the ensuing possession, Versland knocked down another 3 from the corner to give Livingston its first lead of the game with just 47 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
But the Broncs kept their composure down the stretch, calmly sinking free throws to keep their distance from Livingston. Livingston had a chance with .4 seconds left, but the shot caromed off the backboard, allowing the Broncs to advance.
“You have to fight through adversity at all times,” Omlid said. “(Rostad) getting that technical really brought us down, but we talk everybody up, keep our minds right and don’t let that affect you.”
“They play extremely hard. They’re a great team, well-coached,” Blome said. “It was just a battle. We knew it was going to be a battle going into it. It’s the state tournament, everyone is here for a reason. I was proud of our guys. We fought through a lot of adversity (Thursday). A lot of it was self-inflicted, but at the same time to keep battling and keep playing, I was really proud.”
Livingston’s Brendon Johnson had a monster second half to keep the Rangers afloat, scoring 19 points in the final two quarters. Johnson wound up with a team-high 23 points. Omlid, though, was the star on Thursday. He scored 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting and made all five free throw attempts. Omlid also ripped down eight rebounds.
“(Johnson) is a hard matchup for us,” Blome said. “Cam Rothie is one heck of a player, one of the best defenders I’ve had. He’s done a great job, always on the other team’s best player. He was giving up about seven inches to him it looked like.”
Hamilton held an advantage on the glass, 35-26, but gave up 11 offensive rebounds resulting in 11 second-chance points for Livingston.
The Broncs advance to Friday night’s semifinal and will face Billings Central. Livingston will face Frenchtown in loser-out action Friday morning.
Billings Central 65, Frenchtown 43
Billings Central flexed its muscles against Frenchtown early in the first round of the State A boys basketball tournament at Pacific Steel & Recycling Four Seasons Arena on Thursday evening, cruising past the Broncs, 65-43.
The Rams stormed out of the gates, grabbing an 18-8 lead after the first frame. Central continued to roll in the second quarter and got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Cade Herriford to go into the halftime break up 32-17.
“We battled through a couple of their little runs,” Billings Central head coach Jim Stergar said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well early, but when you make 3s, everything feels better, play better defense, and we kind of steamrolled from there. I thought our defense was really good.”
After making just 2 of 11 3-point attempts in the first half, the Rams got red-hot in the second half, burying 7 of 11 shots from beyond the arc. Several of Central’s 3s came off drives to the rim that collapsed the defense, leaving the Rams’ shooters wide open.
“Our guards are amazing, they can shoot and drive,” Central senior Sam Grey said. “Chrishon (Dixon) is the fastest kid I’ve ever played with. …. They’re just really well-rounded. …. All our guards can dribble and shoot really well. It creates really nice for me (down low).”
Central’s lead shrunk briefly in the third quarter, but the Rams quickly turned things around to fight off a Frenchtown comeback. Since the Rams blew a 15-point lead to Billings Skyview in December, they’ve become much better at closing games out.
“Your good offense makes them play defense a little bit longer and leads to our better defense, and I think our guys have learned that in closing out games and stretching a 10-point lead to a 15-point lead or a 15-point lead to a 20-point lead,” Stergar said. “Either way, they’re conscious about it now and they’re conscious about being able to take care of the ball.”
Central made it tough for Frenchtown’s leading scorer Cade Baker to get free, as Chrishon Dixon and the Rams held Baker to just six points. Baker averaged 12.4 in the regular season. Frenchtown shot just 37.8 percent from the field and was out-rebounded by Central 37-20.
“(Dixon) basically shut (Baker) down and welcomed him to his style of basketball, and it was fun to watch that, too,” Stergar said. “(Dixon) is the best player on the floor. … Chrishon Dixon is the guy that makes every night go for us. He doesn’t have to score points to dominate a game like he did (Thursday).”
The 6-foot-7 Grey had his way inside with the smaller Broncs. Grey had a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Herriford added 13 points, hitting four 3s, and Seth Sasich hit three second-half 3s to finish with nine points. Mason Pyron led Frenchtown with nine points.
The Rams have been to three consecutive State A title games but have lost all three. They’ll rely heavily upon that experience in Friday night’s semifinal matchup against Hamilton.
Billings Central and Hamilton are set to square off at 8 p.m. on Friday night. Frenchtown drops to loser-out action, where the Broncs will take on Livingston on Friday morning.