Locos last dance
Time spent together for the Laurel Locomotives came to a dizzying end in Butte last week against rival Billings Central. The Locos lost 47-43 to the Rams in another closely contested match between the two schools.
After beating Hamilton, 57-48, on the first day of the State tourney Laurel moved on to play Billing Central last Friday night at the Civic Center.
During the season Laurel went 1-1 against the Rams. Both games were decided by three points or less. The first matchup had the Christian Jones buzzer beater to give Laurel the win at home. In the second game Billings Central got revenge in a 46-43 victory, meaning their third meeting would break the season series tiebreaker. During the State tourney it was anyone’s contest for the taking.
The game got off to a very slow start with an emphasis on defense and long 40-second possessions. Every shot was contested and nothing was rushed. Both teams spent the first quarter feeling each other out in the low scoring affair.
Layne Willis had all of Laurel’s points early as they trailed 5-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Dawson Cortese scored his first basket of the game early in the second quarter to tie the game.
Locomotives head coach Pat Hansen screamed at the officials from the sidelines in support of his boys.
Christian Jones scored his first basket of the game on a corner three that gave Laurel their first lead of the game, 8-5.
BCCHS point guard Chrishon Dixon had an outstanding game for the Rams and had huge early and late buckets, scoring two quick field goals in the second to keep his team close.
To start the third Jones got himself going fast. He hit a floater to tie the game and then an off-the-backboard jumper followed by another jumper to score six straight and put Laurel up 21-19.
Casey Cole scored two soon after and gave the Locos their biggest lead of the game, 26-20.
Willis chipped in a floater at the buzzer to end the third and gave his team a five point lead at 29-24.
Laurel was in the midst of a hard-fought and brutal match. Yet they led, by small margins most of the game. Like every game between these two teams it was close, but it seemed the Locos had the edge early and would grind out the win.
Willis had two free throws to start the final quarter and had his team at a 32-27 lead with under seven minutes left to play.
Things then started to fall apart for Hansen and company.
The Rams hit a three to cut Laurel’s lead to two. Then Dixon knocked down an amazing turnaround fade away on Willis and put his team up 37-34 with 3:16 remaining in the game. Dixon helped lead the Rams to a 10-0 run during the final five minutes of regulation and then scored another layup to give the Rams a four point 39-35 lead.
The beginning of the end for the Locos transpired before them as they watched their season slip away in slow motion.
Dixon went inside for another layup and all of a sudden the late game heroics of a mad nature were going to be needed for the Locos to crawl back.
Laurel had chances on offense and defense to change the game.
Willis made two free throws, followed by a Cole running jumper to bring the score to 42-39.
It was Cole who took the game into his hands in the final three possessions that could have won the game.
He wanted the ball in his hands and he got it, giving his team a score, an assist to Cortese and then a final turnover in his own valiant attempts to win the game.
In the waning last minute a Billings Central player inbounded the ball with a no-call, where the player jumped on the court and then out of bounds, which should have been a turnover and Laurel’s ball, only down by three. Instead, over the boos from the crowd and the shocked Laurel bench the game was nearing the end from the no-call.
“There was a feeling of disappointment in the locker room,” said Hansen. “The kids knew that we didn’t play well and it is hard losing a game like that when you feel like you beat yourself. There were many things throughout the game we could of controlled and we just seemed to fight against ourselves too much.”
Hopes of a championship were over. Laurel would have to spend another night in Butte and play Belgrade the next day to try to advance to possibly a third or fourth place finish, but the dream of going out on top was over and it was long somber night for the boys.
“What we explained to them after that game is that you don’t always get what you want in life,” said Hansen. “Even if you worked your hardest at it, sometimes life will give you another situation to make the best out of it.”
The next day against Belgrade the woes continued for Laurel as they didn’t look like themselves at all. After beating Belgrade to win Divisionals just a week earlier Laurel went down early and never fully recovered in what would end up being the last game of the season.
The game never really reached single digits after Laurel couldn’t overcome an early deficit of 21-11. They had a chance to cut the lead to nine in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t pull it off, eventually falling 54-43.
“It was hard seeing the disappointment in the players’ eyes,” said Hansen. “This is a great group of kids and an exceptional group of seniors. We will miss this group. I am excited to see where these seniors will go and what they will do going forward in their life. They will be very successful in what they decide to do and I truly believe they will impact the community of Laurel in great ways in the future. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of those seniors’ and their families’ lives. They are great families, extremely professional and very caring.”
Seniors Christian Jones, Layne Willis, Shay Osbourne, Dawson Cortese, Connor Schwab, Chanc Lawrence, Trevor Heying, Brandon Ewalt and Isaiah Renner all played their last game of their high school careers in Butte.
Hansen took all of his seniors out of the game in the final minute to give fans, family and the players themselves time to appreciate all they had accomplished in the season. It was a sentimental moment that exhibited the professionalism of Coach Hansen and staff.
Near the final buzzer Hansen walked down to the end of the bench to sit next to Willis and Jones. All three gazed empty onto the court in complete silence, nothing needed to be said. The admiration they had for one another shined brightest in those waning moments before the season faded to black in ways none of them intended.
Laurel def. Hamilton 57-48.
BCCHS def. Laurel 47-43.
Belgrade def. Laurel 54-43.