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Central vs Sidney

Billings Central's Sam Gray (33) looks to shoot as Sidney's Bridger Larson (35) defends in the second quarter at the Nelles Activities Center on Tuesday.

BILLINGS — Coming into this basketball season, the biggest question surrounding Billings Central was who would step up. 

Everyone knew the talent that all-state junior point guard Chrishon Dixon possessed, but the Rams were losing four starters from their lineup. The players who joined Dixon would have big shoes to fill, as Central has been the Class A runner-up the last two seasons. 

Postseason play is drawing rapidly near, and the Rams begin to look like they have found their stride with this new cast of characters. 

Central soundly defeated Sidney 68-34 on Tuesday night at the Nelles Activies Center as part of a pair of makeup games the Rams needed to play due to bad weather over the weekend.

The win was Central's sixth in a row, and avenged a one-point loss the Rams suffered to Sidney back on Jan. 13. 

Seth Sasich and Cade Herriford, both juniors, led the Rams with 14 points apiece off the bench while Dixon added 11. Central will end its regular season at Lewistown on Saturday, and has already locked up the No. 2 seed from the East in next week's Central/Eastern A Divisional in Billings. 

Along with Dixon, seniors Isaac Meyer and Jae Hugs, and juniors Sam Gray and Joe Byorth round out the starting five. Liam Clancy provides the sixth-man spark while Herriford and Sasich have recently proven to be viable scoring options off of the bench. 

This group of players, with plenty of new faces thrown into key roles for the first time, has thrust the Rams right back into contender position. 

What makes it interesting as well is the players who star in different sports, specifically Meyer and Clancy, who have added to the team's success. Meyer was a two-year captain for Central's soccer team while Clancy has been one of the best golfers in the state, and is headed to Wyoming to compete at the college level.

The two have used their experiences in their main sports to fill those shoes in basketball, which has ultimately paid dividends. 

"Soccer taught me a lot about leadership," Meyer said. "Filling that role on the basketball team, after losing so many seniors, is a pretty big role and you have to lead everyone, even if you're not the top scorer on the team. You have to bring everyone together as a team and that's the biggest part.

"I was ready for it when I first came in and kind of figured that maybe I'd be a team captain this year. It was good having that previous experience in soccer, being a captain."

Meyer didn't score until the fourth quarter on Tuesday while Clancy hit a 3-pointer to begin the game and didn't score again. But the two provide threats from deep while their ball movement skills were on full display as well, keeping the rotations moving and finding open players like Sasich, Herriford and Dixon, who did the brunt of the scoring. That, and being leaders by example, have been one of their key attributes. 

Meyer has played all four years while Clancy took last season off to focus on golf. After watching the team fall in the state championship game last March to Dillon, he decided he couldn't just watch from the stands anymore and wanted to contribute on the court instead. 

"I traveled during the winter and played down south to get some recognition for gold. I signed (to Wyoming) this past October so didn't need to travel anymore," Clancy explained. "From last year's title game, I knew I was going to play. Started getting into open gyms and stuff."

Clancy has been one of the team's more reliable outside threats, saying it's a testament to what his coaches has done for him when they "Get a guy that hasn't played in a year to shoot well, they know what they're doing."

"Their on the ball defense and being tenacious and relentless on the defensive end," Central coach Jim Stergar added. "Knocking down big shots and being able to take care of the ball. They take over that leadership role and they're two seniors, and Jae Hugs as well, that are just great leaders. It's hard to replace and have good leaders and those three have done it this year and done a tremendous job of leading this team."

Central is beginning to hit its stride, but Stergar thinks his team can still improve in the final weeks before divisionals and state. 

"I think the last two games have been really good as far as controlling tempo and how we want to play," Stergar said about the recent wins over Sidney and Glendive. "I think we can keep getting better. I think there's a ways to go still, there's lapses at times. But when we get going, we're a pretty good team."

It's just new faces getting the job done. 

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