By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With sole possession of first place in the SWCL on the line, the Crane Pirates defeated the Billings Wildcats, 69-57, on Tuesday night. Crane saw its record rise to 21-2 as the Pirates continued their 16-game win streak. Billings fell to 17-6 and are now in second place in the SWCL at 4-1, with Crane ahead of them at 5-0.
The game started off with Crane jumping out to a 10-0 lead, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the night. Billings, though, was up for the challenge and fought back into the game. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 26-16 in favor of the Pirates.
In the second quarter Billings seemed to relax and get back into the game as the Wildcats cut the lead to four before Crane went into the half leading by nine, 38-29.
Billings came out flat in the third quarter, and Crane took advantage of miscues and missed shots to take a double digit lead. Billings battled back and with 2:45 left in the third quarter tied the game at 43. Crane came down, drained a three pointer to put them up 46-43. Billings junior Hayden Fender knocked down a layup, putting Billings within one but they would not score the rest of the quarter. Crane’s Isaiah Smith got the crowd back into the game when he made a ¾ court shot, giving Crane a 53-45 lead at the buzzer.
“I mess around in practice but there’s no way I can practice that shot and know that that’s going in, it’s just a hope shot,” said Isaiah Smith. “I knew it had a chance but once it went in, it surprised everyone, including me.”
Billings coach Kendall Tilley was pleased with his team’s ability to fight back and stay in the game. He didn’t think that Smith’s shot had much effect on his team.
“We turned it over five times in a row to start the second half and got down eleven or whatever, then battled our way back and got some easy stuff and some and-ones,” said Tilley. “The crowd got into it and we got into it, we made it a ball game again until the fourth quarter. We’d turned it over maybe once or twice right before that kid made the shot. Kids make shots, they could have dribbled down and made a three or something like that anytime. It’s just tough when you could have made a basket at that point and had a five point swing. That’s definitely difficult to live with sometimes.”
The fourth quarter saw both teams go on runs and Crane started to take the air out of the ball and force Billings to play an up-tempo game. Billings was up for the challenge and at 2:30 Crane’s lead was just four, 59-55.
Crane senior Tyler Campbell led his team in scoring with 18 points, including the final six points of the game.
“There were a lot of runs from both sides and they went on a huge run and we came back and answered back with another run,” said Crane senior Tyler Campbell. “I knew we would take over when they tied, we’ve had this happen before and we know how to handle it. We stayed under control and we knew not to get too high and too low. We like to get every possession, get more possessions than them. Every loose ball matters.”
Coach Kevin Smith of Crane knew his upperclassmen would stay composed and would handle the pressure.
“We have some good aggressive kids and I’ve talked about being aggressive on offense and defense and that parlays into being better,” said Smith. “I think the aggressive team wins, usually, offensively and defensively, but what we want to do is be aggressive on the defensive end. I knew it was going to be a good battle, and Billings came in and did a great job with us. They made a counter that kind of bothered us and we still didn’t get it fixed at halftime when they started snowbirding on us. Then we kinda got it fixed about who’s going to rotate back and that bothered us, I thought that was a great call on Coach Tilley’s part.”
In the remaining 2:30 of the game, Crane knocked down six straight free throws and Billings managed just one lone bucket. Campbell put the nail in the coffin with a fast break layup with less than a minute to go, giving Crane the 69-57 win.
“Well, it was a battle,” said Tilley. “Two undefeated teams and we know how good they are and how aggressive they are, and if we could not turn the ball over we had a chance to stay in the game. We went through two stretches where we turned it over in the first half and the second half and that’s kind of the ball game right there. In the third quarter we were getting some rebounds, some guys were leaking out and we were getting a couple easy ones. When they were getting back and making us play half court offense we were struggling a little bit but when we get out and run against them we could play with them.”
Coach Smith was complimentary of the Billings Wildcats and their tenacity but felt his team handled it well.
“I thought we guarded well and sped them up at times and made them play our way,” said Smith. “We had a hard time with them sometimes around the basket, sometimes we’d put so much pressure on the ball we were hoping that they couldn’t see to feed the post. Billings is good and we knew it was going to be a battle. We were tied for first in the conference until this game, now we are 5-0 and they are 4-1. That’s a good, solid win against a good club. Right now we are sitting at 21-2, still playing well, we just hope to keep winning and keep moving on. We want to focus on the conference right now then we want to focus on districts after that.”
Billings—Jacob Henry-4, Nick Newkirk-2, Colton Plowman-21, Braden Ray-12, Kyler Tennis-8, Julian Moody-2, Hayden Fender-8
Crane—Tyler Campbell-18, Aric Spyres-3, Isaiah Smith-16, Brecken Vaught-14, Wes Branstetter-4, Aidan Vaught-6, Jacob Woodward-8
Billings 16 13 16 12 57
Crane 26 12 15 16 69