The favorite and the Cinderella each withstood third-quarter runs in Thursday's evening session of the State A boys' basketball tournament at Dahlberg Arena to move on to the semifinals.
Dillon, which came in with the best record of the eight teams, took over in the fourth quarter to overcome a 15-3 Laurel surge that erased what was once a double-digit lead. Dillon responded with a 12-2 run to take a rematch of the 2015 state final, 69-57.
Hardin first had to dig its way out of a hole and then had to hold off Butte Central 57-42 to set up a semifinal meeting with Dillon. The Bulldogs, in their first state appearance since 2007, allowed the Maroons to get within three early in the third before seizing control and running away to a 14-point win.
Hardin 57, Butte Central 42
Butte Central hit its first four shots to get out to a 9-2 lead, but Hardin responded with a 23-6 run that bridged 11 minutes of the first and second quarter. It was ignited by an offensive rebound and put-back from Darnell Left Hand in what became a familiar sight in the late afternoon game.
Left Hand, who came in averaging 15.1 points per game, scored eight in the first quarter on his way to a 20-point, 12-rebound performance.
"Darnell, he's really special. He just has a natural feel around the basket," said first-year Hardin head coach Andrew Round Face.
Left Hand added six more in the second, but more so than the post, it was Hardin's defense that shut down a Central offense that hit 7 of its 9 first-quarter shots. The Bulldogs turned five Maroons turnovers into 10 points to take a 27-19 halftime lead.
"Usually that's where we get a large amount of our points," Round Face said. "We like to pressure the ball and it always rolls into our offense. That's the way we've always been."
But the defense had a temporary lapse, letting the Maroons run off five straight to get within 27-24 before Larry McCormick hit one of his five threes to put an end to the Central surge. McCormick hit two more from distance in the second half, the first stretched the Bulldogs' lead to 10 late in the third and his final trey was with 5:18 to go and increased the advantage to 14.
McCormick finished with 18 points and six rebounds.
Butte Central, which dropped into a loser-out meeting with Laurel at 2 p.m. on Friday, was led by Tanner Kump's 14.
Dillon 69, Laurel 57
In a rematch of the 2015 title won by the Locomotives, Dillon closed the first half on a 12-4 run to turn a back-and-forth battle into an eight-point game.
In the first, before the Beavers exerted themselves, neither team could get much breathing room. Dillon took a 10-6 lead on Tanner Haverfield's first three, but Laurel responded with four straight and the teams traded baskets until Laurel's Josh Anderson got a jumper to knot the game at 15.
But Dillon's disciplined half-court offense allowed it to build a lead in the second and then stretch it to as much as a dozen on back-to-back threes from Nate Simkins and Troy Andersen with 5:45 to go.
Laurel then embarked on a 15-3 run that included threes from Christian Jones and Marcus Gunn. Jones hit the second of his three triples to cut the Locomotives' deficit to 38-35 and Layne Willis added a three-point play to bring Laurel all the way back.
But Laurel could never push ahead.
Dillon hit two two threes that were enough to give it a one-point lead going into the fourth despite a Willis' leaner at the buzzer.
Andersen opened the fourth with five quick points and the Beavers forced Laurel into five fourth-quarter turnovers to move into the semis and give them a chance to best their two consecutive second-place finishes.
"Our guys did a great job of sharing the ball until they got a really good quality look and we were able to attack the basket," Dillon coach Terry Thomas said.
Dillon put three players in double figures led by Simkins' 18 points. Jones scored 16 to lead Laurel.