GREAT FALLS — On Saturday, in a rematch of last year's Eastern AA girls championship, Billings West denied Billings Skyview the pleasure of being back to back champs.
In a game that only saw two lead changes, which came in the first quarter, the Bears controlled the tempo and pace to claim the number one spot at the state tournament from the East.
After facing a double-digit deficit in the first half, the West boys climbed their way back into the driver's seat as they took down top-seeded Bozeman. The Bears stepped up their defense in the final two minutes as they came up with one big steal after another to seal the deal and win the title.
Billings West 40 , Billings Skyview 35
The teams went back and fourth without gaining much of an edge in the first quarter. But in the second quarter, West began to pull away behind a nine-point first half from Halle Haber. The Bears held a 23-14 lead at the break.
As Skyview continued to fight, the Falcons would cut the lead back down to three on two separate occasions in the third quarter. West opened up the fourth with a run of its own that would push the lead back up to seven.
After the halfway point in the final quarter, the Falcons would get the deficit down to 36-33 after an Angel Martin basket. Breanna Williams would make it a one-point game inside of three minutes after a rebound and a put-back.
But West would respond once more as Layla Baumann came up with an and-one to go back ahead by three. The Falcons had a chance to tie but a 3-pointer was off the mark and West would ice it from the free throw line.
Brooklyn Pierce led the Bears with 11 points and 14 rebounds. They also got nine-point contributions from Baumann and Haber. Alexis Brauer and Williams combined for 21 points for the Falcons.
Billings West 54, Bozeman 48
Bozeman got out to an 18-11 lead after the first quarter and improved the lead to 28-15 by the halftime break. In that first half, the Hawks shot 50% from the field and held West to just 30%, but the game was far from over.
After using the third quarter to chip away at the double digit-deficit, West found itself only trialing by five as the game entered the fourth.
Midway through the final quarter, Cooper Tyson would get into the paint to give the Bears the lead by one. It was a short lived lead since Kash Embry would respond and put Bozeman back out in front. With the game tied at 47, Ben Erbacher would come up with a steal and score on the opposite end to give West a two-point advantage with just over a minute to go.
West came up with nine steals by the end of the game, and forced Bozeman into 15 total turnovers as it completed the comeback. Tyson led the Bears with 15 points but they got an additional 13 from Teagan Balfanz, 11 from Billy Carlson, and 10 from Erbacher.
The Hawks got a team high 14 points from Jake Casagranda. Rocky Lencioni and Kellen Harrison combined for 23 in the Hawks' effort.