Central, Laurel girls on hot streaks entering State A tournament

2013-02-27T23:00:00Z 2013-02-28T07:43:03Z Central, Laurel girls on hot streaks entering State A tournamentBy GREG RACHAC grachac@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Billings Central has won more State A girls basketball championships — six — than any other school.

If the Rams are to capture title No. 7 at this weekend’s tournament in Butte, they’ll have to stick to what’s worked for them all year.

“I think we have to continue the same formula,” said fourth-year coach Jeff Malby, who last year guided Central to its second state title in three seasons. “We’ve talked about playing our tempo and creating offense from solid defense.

“When you get into the state tournament, you have to worry more about what you do and play your game and just power through anything that’s not going your way.”

The Rams (14-7) are fresh off winning the Eastern A divisional championship with a 69-54 victory over Hardin on Saturday. It was, as Malby put it, a game that solidified the team’s confidence.

Guard Allie Lucas and forward Justyn Juhl, both juniors, combined to score 50 points in that game. Lucas — who averages just under 17 points per game — is the ringleader of the Rams’ operation on both offense and defense.

Central comes into the tourney on a six-game winning streak.

Laurel, the No. 2 seed from the Eastern division, beat Hardin in a challenge game Monday to qualify for state.

The Locomotives (16-6) are seeking their first title since 2006, and are also coming in hot: Laurel has won nine of its last 10 games entering its first-round game against Frenchtown (11-9).

The Locos are led by senior guard Jayde LeFevre, who can beat you taking the ball to the rim or shooting from the perimeter. LeFevre averages around 16 points per game.

Defensively, the Locomotives will look to neutralize Frenchtown’s Vanessa Stavish, who leads her team in scoring at 17.5 points per game.

“We feel like it’s a pretty good matchup for us,” said Laurel coach Amber Griffith. “It will boil down to executing our game plan and being good at what we do.

“We’re playing pretty good basketball right now. We feel good about where we’re at and how we’re playing.”

The Locomotives took fourth at last year’s state tournament, but made it to the championship game two seasons ago.

The Rams’ first-round opponent is Columbia Falls, the No. 2 seed from the Northwestern A. The Wildkats (17-4) were upset by Frenchtown in their divisional title game, but still qualified for state with a challenge game victory over Polson on Monday.

The Wildkats’ Haley Belgarde, at 15.3 points per game, was the second-leading scorer in the Northwest during the regular season.

The loss to Frenchtown was Columbia Falls’ only defeat to a Class A team all year. The Wildkats had won nine in a row prior to that.

“They’re very formidable,” Malby said. “They’ve got good size, they defend well, they rebound … they didn’t win that many games by accident. It’ll be a challenge.”

The other first-round matchups feature Butte Central (16-4) against Browning (11-10) and Havre (13-7) versus Stevensville (12-9).

Butte Central comes in as the champion of the Southwestern A, but the Maroons will likely be without standout Danee Leary, who suffered a concussion in the division title game against Hamilton.

The Maroons have played for the state championship in each of the past two seasons. They won it in 2011.

The most touted individual talent at the tournament will be Stevensville’s Alycia Sims.

Sims, a 6-foot-3 senior post, averages 18.8 points per game, and will play college basketball at the University of Montana. The Sims-led Yellowjackets are making their first state tournament appearance since 1998.

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