Twenty-four games, 24 opponents, 24 wins and another state championship.
That turned out to be the story for the Dillon boys’ basketball team, this season, which scripted its happy ending with a 59-45 win over Billings Central in the State Class A Championship game, Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center.
Tanner Haverfield scored 26 points and the Beavers’ defense stepped up to its latest challenge to win its second straight Class A crown – both coming against Billings Central.
The Beavers were playing in their fourth straight Class A title game. They lost to Columbia Falls and Laurel in 2014 and 2015, respectively, before beating Billings Central, 66-61, last season.
The Rams were in search of their first title since beating Libby in the 1996 title game.
“We knew, coming back from winning last year, that we were going to get everybody’s best shot,” said Troy Andersen, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds. “We just tried to take it one game at a time and just play really hard at practice. If we practiced hard, we would play hard and it all ended up good for us this year.
“Our coaches are just great. They prepared us for everything that anyone can throw at us.”
Strong defense and top-notch rebounding have been essential to the Beavers’ success, and those two facets were instrumental in the Beavers’ latest win.
But the game didn’t start out that way.
Dillon wasn’t shy about establishing long-range dominance on offense, as the Beavers’ first four field goals of the game came from beyond the 3-point arc.
Andersen broke that streak when his layup and free throw with 44.6 seconds left in the first quarter gave Dillon a 21-15 lead.
The Beavers scored the first two baskets of the second quarter – both from within the 3-point line – to open up a 25-15 lead but those two baskets served as a wakeup call for the Rams. Billings Central responded with an 8-0 run that cut Dillon’s lead to 25-23.
Peyton Hanser hit two 3-point baskets during the run, and point guard Chrishon Dixon provided the other two points with a steal and layup.
Dillon’s defense stiffened and held Billings Central to just one point in the final 3:59 of the half, while its offense pushed the lead to seven points.
Any thoughts of another comeback deteriorated when the teams started the third quarter.
The Beavers scored the first five points of the third quarter to build a 36-24 lead, and the advantage never got closer than 10 points.
““It was just such tremendous senior leadership, and then that leadership went to practice where we practiced very hard,” Dillon coach Terry Thomas said of the key to this season’s success. “From practice we took it to the court and they were able to adapt to whatever type of game was being played. They did such a tremendous job of that (Saturday).”
Though Dillon’s defense came up big, Billings Central struggled to get the ball into the basket. The Rams shot 42 percent (6 of 14) from 3-point range in their semifinal win over Laurel but had to settle for 21 (7 for 28) percent against Dillon.
“The ball didn’t go in for us and it definitely went in for them,” Rams coach Jim Stergar said. “It’s tough to overcome. They did the same thing to us last year. They got guys hitting 3’s all over the place. It’s tough to get to every single guy on that team that can hit a three. They put the time in and they deserved to make those shots.
“We had our chances. Not as good as looks as they had, but ours didn’t go in and theirs did.”
Dillon outrebounded Billings Central, 20-9, in the first half and closed out the game with a 29-21 advantage. The Beavers also held the Rams to 33 percent shooting from the field, while finishing at 51 percent.
“The key was playing our ball game and rebounding the ball,” Haverfield said. “If we could do two things… I think we proved that nobody could beat us this year.”
The Rams were led by Hanser and Jet Campbell, who finished with 13 points apiece. Shay Dantic scored 10 in the loss.
Polson High turned in the biggest rebound of the tournament when it bounced back from a 20-point loss in its opening game against Billings Central and captured the third-place trophy with a 54-47 win over Belgrade.
Polson last played in the championship game at the end of the 2009-10 season, losing to Laurel.
The Panthers struggled through a first half in which they shot just 19 percent from the floor and trailed by a 29-10 margin at halftime.
Their low shooting percentage in the first half included a 1-for-12 mark from 3-point range.
But with players like Dexter Fowler and Trey Layman on the roster, it was a sure bet that the Panthers had some fight in them.
Belgrade started to find its mark midway through the third quarter and staged a furious comeback that saw Polson’s led shrink to four points with 1:11 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Pirates were to build a 52-44 lead with 24.9 seconds to play but Brock Salsbury hit a 3 after a mad scramble for a loose ball.
Polson closed out the win at the free-throw line.
Rensvold finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Pirates, with Jeremiah Noth Peigan adding 15 points.
Fowler led Belgrade with 17 points. Layman had 12 points, and Salsbury finished with 11 rebounds.