Start fast and then hold on for dear life.
That was Dillon's formula for success in a tense State A boys' basketball final Saturday night at Dahlberg Arena. The Beavers raced to a 20-point lead in the first six minutes, used five 3-pointers by Nate Simkins in the third quarter to maintain a sizable cushion and survived a Billings Central comeback in a 66-61 triumph.
"Losing in the finals the last two years, this year means a lot," said Simkins, who tallied a team-high 28 points, 21 coming on seven triples. "Our senior year, going out like this, there's nothing better than that."
Dillon (22-2) led 52-42 early in the fourth quarter after Tanner Haverfield nailed a triple. From there the Beavers spread the floor, hoping to milk the clock and stem Central's frantic comeback bid.
The move almost backfired. Dillon went nearly five minutes without hitting a field goal and its lead was whittled to 63-61 on a pair of Johnny Elliott free throws with 48.9 seconds left.
"Coach just told us be tough with the ball," said the Beavers' Troy Andersen. "Take care of it, play good defense and get quality shots."
Central (14-9) fouled Andersen with 30.3 seconds left and he made one of two free-throw attempts to stretch the lead to 64-61. Elliott tried to reply with a 3-point goal but his attempt came up short and Tanner Haverfield came up with the loose ball for Dillon.
The Rams fouled Simkins with 7.9 seconds left, hoping he would miss both of his free-throw attempts. He made both, icing the game for the Beavers.
"A lot of games we don't do too well in the second quarter," said Simkins, whose team was outscored 15-6 in the second frame, "but we just stayed with it and prevailed in the end."
The Beavers, who could be heard singing their fight song in the locker room 30 minutes after the game, shot 46.3 percent from the floor (19 for 41). Central was even better at 53.8 percent (21 for 39), but the Rams just couldn't overcome Dillon's 14 for 28 effort from behind the arc.
Central's Jacob Hadley led all scorers with 34 points.
Polson 66, Havre 65 (OT)
The Pirates (19-6) earned their best state finish in six years with clutch defensive play when it counted most in the third place game.
Matthew Rensvold and Jeremiah North Piegan each collected 18 points and North Piegan had a game-high nine rebounds for Polson. Payton Lefthand had 11 points and five assists and Julian Jones piled up five steals.
Havre (18-7) had a chance to win the game in the final seconds of regulation. With the score knotted at 54-54, Jerod Boles went in for a layup but was forcefully rejected by Rensvold. The Blue Ponies inbounded again with 3.1 ticks left and this time Jones intercepted a pass down low, forcing overtime.
Jones made another big defensive play early in the overtime period when he tipped the ball away from a Havre player up top and then scored to give his team a 56-54 lead. The game went back-and-forth from there and Jones made a free throw at :55.3 and two more at :51.5 after he made another steal, giving giving the Pirates a 66-62 advantage.
Havre crept within one on a Dane Warp 3-point play at :44.6. The score stayed that way, with the Blue Ponies wasting a chance to hoist a last-second shot near the basket due to a lack of awareness as time ran out.
"We've learned how to put people away in our own way, and sometimes it's not pretty," Polson coach Randy Kelley said. "Tonight wasn't pretty and we made mistakes and I give a lot of credit to Havre.
"But I'm really proud of our boys right now. This means a lot to this team. I told them I'm proud of them and I love them."
Polson finished with a 33-26 edge in rebounds and a 32-18 advantage in points in the paint. Warp, who will play at Carroll College, finished with a game-high 32 points and seven assists.
Polson 64, Hardin 56
The Pirates hit 19 of 39 shots in holding off the Bulldogs in the loser out game.
Polson took a 14-point lead into the final frame. Hardin scored 30 points in the final eight minutes but it was not enough.
Matthew Rensvold just missed a double-double for the winners with 20 points and nine rebounds. Payton Lefthand pitched in with 14 points and Tanner Wilson 13 for the Pirates.
Larry McCormick collected 14 points and seven boards for the Bulldogs, who finished with a 15-9 record. Teammate Darnell Left Hand had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Havre 70, Laurel 57
Dane Warp scored 29 points and Jerod Boles added 26 in leading the Blue Ponies to the win in the loser out game. Warp was 3 for 4 from behind the arc and Boles was 4 for 7.
As a team the winners were 8 for 15 from 3-point land and shot 51.2 percent overall (21 for 41). Laurel shot 37.7 percent (20 for 53).
The Locomotives, who finished with a 12-13 mark, were led by reserve Josh Anderson with 14 points.