In Dale Lamberth’s mind, you can credit Crane’s second district championship in three seasons to the maturation of Zach Chastain.
The sophomore delivered in a big way Friday night, draining a late 3-pointer to send the Pirates to the Class 2 state tournament after a 72-68 district finals win over defending champion Billings.
"The next time down in a timeout, he calls the defense and says, 'This is what we want to run, let's stay with it.' Zach Chastain gets all the credit for tonight's win coming down the stretch."
With Crane trailing 68-66, Chastain came off a screen on the right wing and pulled up from the top of the key for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining.
Brady Chastain, the cousin of Zach Chastain, would miss a running mid-range jumper on Billings’ next possession.
Crane got the rebound and Jordan Bowling hit two free throws to put the Pirates up 71-68 with 5.1 seconds remaining.
In-bounding underneath the Crane basket, Billings threw the ball past the halfcourt line to Chad Yeokum. Crane fouled Yeokum with 3.1 seconds remaining, but it was ruled a non-shooting foul.
Yeokum went to the line for two shots and missed the first attempt. His second try rimmed out and went out of bounds off Billings. Time would eventually run out on the Wildcats, as Crane returned to the Class 2 tournament for the first time since it won the title in 2011.
Billings won the Class 2 state title last season.
"I told the guys we better go and win the whole thing now," Lamberth said. "The SWCL has won the last two years (at state), so it's going to be a tough task.
"I can't really talk right now. I'm just blessed to be in this moment. I'm so proud of my guys."
Crane led by double digits early in the fourth quarter before Billings’ staged a big comeback. The Wildcats ripped off a 10-2 run in little over one minute to get within 55-53 with 6:11 remaining.
"When they made that run, that's when we got rattled," said Lamberth, going back to Crane’s 84-53 loss at Billings in the regular season. "As when we played them the first time, we got rattled. Their pressure bothered us a little bit."
Billings took its first lead (65-64) since the first half on Brady Chastain’s stepback 3-pointer with just over two minutes left.
Austin Essick’s layup put Billings (22-5 overall) up 67-66 with one minute to go. He then made one of two free throws before Zach Chastain’s trey put Crane up for good.
Crane (22-5 overall) endured a three-game losing streak from late December into January. Lamberth said around that period he met with Zach Chastain and gave him the reins to the team.
“I just told him that he’s gotta lead us this time,” Lamberth said. “You’ll lead us for the next few years, might as well start now. I think it took some pressure off our seniors. It opened up the game for everybody. He’s grown up so much.”
Jordan Bowling led Crane with 24 points and Zach Chastain scored 16. Austin Essick scored a game-high 29 points but was 2-for-9 at the free throw line.
Crane, minus senior starter Cole Walden who suffered a season-ending injury Monday night, will face either Miller or Pierce City at sectionals on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at Republic High School.
Crane 72, Billings 68
Crane 14 22 14 22 --- 72
Billings 19 14 10 25 --- 68
Billings – Austin Essick 29, Brady Chastain 16, Chad Yeokum 13, Dawson Meyer 6, Steven Driscoll 4