Locos beat Hardin, gain momentum

By: 
GARRETT HARR
Outlook staff writer
Photos by Garrett Harr.  Paige O’Toole goes for the jump ball in Laurel’s game against Hardin last week. O’Toole had 12 points in the game.

The Locos played out a very close game against Hardin last Thursday in a narrow 66-60 conference win.
The Locos played very mechanical the entire game, each player doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
Christian Jones took control in the second quarter making pull of jumpers look too easy and getting his points, Layne Willis had some clutch free-throws down the stretch and even Casey Cole got some good minutes. Shay Osbourne was huge on the boards and against some big Hardin boys, along with Dawson Cortese who was big on both ends.
They played hard and with a lot of grit. The entire visitor’s section of the LHS arena was packed with black and orange fans from Hardin who packed the house to support their team. Hardin shot a lot of threes. They were never out of the game, even when Laurel would get ahead by eight or ten points it still never felt safe. Hardin has the talent to always remain a few threes behind and with Darnell Lefthand down low, they could put points up easily and quickly.
Laurel made Lefthand take very tough shots to reach his 27; he was swarmed and defended well all night by Laurel’s bigs.
“Hat’s off to Laurel they had a good game,” said Hardin head coach Andrew Roundface. “We will get healthier and learn from our mistakes and move on from it.”
The entire Hardin team had suffered from the flu since Saturday; They had no practices, no nothing.
“The first time we touched a ball was last night” said Roundface.
Hardin’s boys were sluggish and their threes were not falling. They still stayed close the entire game and had opportunities to steal the game. But, their two stars were under the weather and Lefthand did make 27, while his running mate David Evans dropped 20.
Both teams will remain at the top of their conference, and along with Billings Central, will surely have to face each other in the future.
Laurel, on the other hand, had another hard fought night. Pat Hansen and the rest of the click already thought Laurel was the best team in the conference. That was before they even played Billings Central and Hardin. Now that the records show the scores, the rest of the state can see what this team already knew.
“We are the best in the conference,” said Loco Shay Osbourne.
“We beat a very athletic and physical team,” said LHS coach Pat Hansen.
Locomotives Isaiah Renner and Casey Cole both had huge roles off of the bench and gave their team a huge spark. LHS held Hardin to 32 percent from the field and the Locos shot 44 percent.
“This was a big win and a great way of protecting our own floor,” continued Hansen.
The win brought the Locos to eight straight victories and even shot them into the top five rankings for a short period. What came next was their biggest challenge yet. Hardin was the best in the conference, but up next was Billings Skyview, who most consider the best of the best, an entirely different animal.

Laurel def. Hardin 66-60
Hardin 11 13 14 22 — 60
Laurel 17 15 19 15 — 66
Hardin: Famous Lefthand 8, Staffan Walks Over Ice 2, David Evans 20, Andrew House 3, Darnell Lefthand 27.
Laurel: Isaiah Renner 10, Casey Cole 11, Shay Osborne 10, Christian Jones 14, Layne Willis 11, Dawson Cortese 8, Chanc Lawrence 2.

Last Saturday night Laurel’s 52-38 loss against Billing Skyview was a test of endless possibilities. The game raised questions about ethics, conference match ups, David vs. Goliath games and how good the Locos really are. Or, it maybe it proved none of these things, as the game contained a myriad of odd ends and out-of-character decisions by star players resulting in a very strange game, for both teams.
Billings Skyview was coming off their only loss of the season against Bozeman. The Locos came into a vicious crowd of screaming and yelling fans, riding an eight-game winning streak, including a Christian Jones buzzer beater against Billings Central just a few games previous.
The battle royal had finally arrived; this was a chance for the Locos to see just how good they were. Could they run with best of the best?
The game started off as planned. Skyview was still visually energized and upset about their first loss of the season and Laurel was at a season high peak in wins and confidence.
The two clashed early as the game went back and forth, staying within reach of each other with Falcon RayQuan Evans hitting shots where he was suppose to, and Loco Christian Jones doing his part.
As the game progressed the crowd became more vocal, taunting Casey Cole every time he touched the ball and also booing and shouting when any Laurel player was at the line. The crowd did anything and everything in its power to disrupt the Locos in one of the most hostile environments Laurel had played in all season.
LHS senior Layne Willis, such an integral part of the team sat out sick. Jones did all he could early on, and his efforts seemed to keep it close. Shay Osbourne, undersized against his opponents, managed to find baskets wherever he could, scoring and rebounding and giving his team heart in a hostile place. He came up huge.
“We played an extremely talented team while not being at our best or best effort and still felt we were in the game the whole time,” said LHS coach Pat Hansen.
Jones struggled. No one can know if it was the pressure, the skill of RayQuan Evans or his other assignment of having to guard Evans himself, pulling double duty on offense and defense. Yet throughout history ‘the best’ play both ends of the floor and the best player, if possible, usually guards the best player on the other team.
In the third quarter, Falcons head coach benched his stars and Laurel, behind Shay Osbourne got within eight points of Skyview, then RayQuan Evans came back in.
Almost immediately he took the ball and with a nasty crooked crossover and an easy route to the rim. threw down a one-handed hard dunk in a crowded lane. The fans erupted and that was that; the game was out of reach from there.
Jones knows he didn’t play his best; he is his own harshest critic. That is why he demands to be guarded by the best and he is shown respect. It is what makes him so good. Every single Loco knew they didn’t play their best. Some of it was because of the Falcons, some of it was because of Laurel. The box score did not accurately portray the game.
Could Layne Willis have changed things? Should Christian Jones have played more aggressively in his teammate’s absence? Jones took ill-advised threes towards the end of the game in a haste to try and bring his team back, but before that he seemed passive. The first quarter he was his usual self, but became more and more out-of-whack as the game went on and he was forced into uncomfortable shots he did not make.
“We had no energy, we didn’t play Laurel basketball,” said Osbourne of the game.
Jones seemed more upset than anyone.
“We didn’t play good, but it didn’t phase us, we’re coming back,” he said.
Laurel had their shot to win; they had the opportunity to beat the best team in the land and they should have. It wasn’t anything the Falcons did in particular that Laurel couldn’t do, it was just one of those nights. With a group like Pat Hansen has this season, this loss will only make them stronger. The next few weeks will be angry and vicious and fun to watch.
The Locomotives play Columbus in Laurel on Feb. 4, at 7: 30 p.m.

Billings Skyview def. Laurel 52-38
Laurel 12 8 8 10 — 38
Skyview 13 15 11 13 — 52
Laurel: Isaiah Renner 2, Casey Cole 5, Shay Osborne 7, Christian Jones 9, Brett Wagner 3, Logan Kennedy 1, Dawson Cortese 7, Chanc Lawrence 4.
Billings Skyview: RayQuan Evans 23, Steven Fisher 4, Shane Samuelson 2, Jerelle Big Hair 5, Zach Schmidt 3, Zharon Richmond 10, Logan DeHaven 5.

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