Story by 406 Sports.
BILLINGS — The Golden Dome, the gymnasium on the Billings West campus, has earned a reputation as a house of horrors for opponents.
That’s certainly been the case over the years for the Billings Senior boys basketball team.
According to Ed West, a former longtime sportswriter at The Billings Gazette who made a habit of recording such things, Senior’s last win at West was nearly two decades ago.
So when the Broncs upended the Golden Bears on their home floor 66-62 Tuesday night, it not only provided Senior with a bit of a salve for a disappointing weekend, it gave the orange-and-black a sense of accomplishing a rare feat.
“We all just have a passion to want to win here,” Broncs senior guard Chazz Haws said. “That kind of gave us extra motivation, especially our seniors. There’s eight of us, so we all wanted this.”
Tuesday’s win at the Dome was just Senior’s third in the storied history of the rivalry. Previously, the Broncs defeated the Bears 66-47 on Dec. 17, 1965, and 71-57 on Jan. 20, 2004.
That’s a lot of homecourt advantage to overcome.
“They’ve always been so talented, and there’s just something about this place,” said Senior coach Drew Haws, who coached briefly at West in the early 2000s before switching sides. “We haven’t played well here. But it was good tonight.”
Both the Broncs and Bears entered the contest in pretty much the same place. Both were 3-3 and coming off losses to Bozeman and Bozeman Gallatin last weekend.
Senior had lost by 28 points to Bozeman and three points to Gallatin; West was handed a 34-point loss by the Hawks and Gallatin defeated West by two points.
Fittingly, the first intra-city meeting between the Broncs and Bears was close throughout. Senior led 17-14 after the first quarter, 38-33 at the half and 51-48 heading into the fourth quarter.
It was still a four-point game with under two minutes to play when Senior’s DeMarcus Johnson made a nice entry pass inside to Melo Pine, who was flashing under the basket along the baseline for a reverse layup and a free throw to give the Broncs a 61-54 lead.
Given the way the game had played out, seven points seemed insurmountable. But West hung around on quick baskets by Cooper Tyson and Beau Bergstrom.
West’s Teagan Balfanz made it a one possession game with six seconds to go before the Broncs successfully in-bounded the ball after a timeout and Pine sank one of two free throws with 4.8 seconds left to end the scoring.
“It’s just uncanny how similar our season has gone with theirs,” said Drew Haws, whose Broncs ended a three-game losing streak and improved to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Eastern AA. “We basically have the same record with the same losses in about the same fashion, so I really did think this was going to be a close game tonight.”
Pine finished with 16 points and Chazz Haws had 14 to lead the Broncs. Johnson added 13 for Senior.
The Bears dropped their third straight game and slipped to 3-4 and 0-3 in the league. Their biggest lead was 29-25 with 4:35 left in the second quarter on a basket by Sam Phillips and they led 33-30 before Senior closed the first half on an 8-0 run.
West never regained the lead, though the Bears were able to forge ties at 44-44 and 46-46.
Gabe Hatler of West led all scorers with 23 points, while Phillips finished with 17.
The Broncs are off until Jan. 20 when they’ll play their other city rival Billings Skyview. Until then, they’ll try and use this win as the start of something better.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence, which I think we were lacking going into those Bozeman games,” Chazz Haws said. “So I think that confidence boost will be huge for us going into Skyview and Belgrade (on Jan. 22).”
Email Mike Scherting at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert