That was the last time the Custer County District High School Cowboy basketball team reached the Eastern A Divisional Championship game. But with a magical ride that saw the sixth-seeded Cowboys beat the #3 and #2 teams, the Cowboys did just that this weekend in Billings.
And the Cowboys nearly beat the top-seed in the championship game.
But the Cowboys had to settle for a loss to Laurel in the Eastern A championship game and a berth in the State A Tournament for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
“I’m just extremely proud of the effort the boys gave,” Cowboys Head Coach Houston Finn said. “They worked extremely hard for 32 minutes every game. They did an awesome job.”
The Cowboys beat third-seeded Billings Central 63-56 in the first-round, the third-straight year the Cowboys have won a first-round game at Divisionals.
In the semifinals, the Cowboys played Glendive tough the entire game, winning the game on a Brac Warren buzzer beater, 44-41. That put the Cowboys into the Divisional championship game for the first time since 1997.
In the championship game, the Cowboys nearly stunned top-seeded, and top-ranked, Laurel, before falling 39-38 in the final seconds.
Now the Cowboys (7-14) will move on to the state tournament in Great Falls where they will face Southwestern A champion Dillon on Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., at the Four Seasons Arena.
Cowboys 44, Glendive 41 (Semifinal)
The Cowboys led for most of the game, leading by as many as 11 in the second quarter, but their lead had shrunk to 33-31 going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, the lead never went above four for either team.
With the score tied at 39, Warren hit two of three free throws to give the Cowboys a two point lead, but Taylor Schwartz tied it with a pair of free throws with 1:34 to play.
In the final minute, Cowboy Austin Stradley went to the line for a pair of free throws, but stepped outside of the circle and was whistled for a lane violation, giving the ball back to Glendive with the score tied at 41.
After killing the clock, the Red Devils missed their shot and Warren hauled in the rebound. He looked to hustle the ball up court for a final shot, but Finn called a timeout with three seconds to play.
Following the timeout, Warren tossed the ball in to Connor Torstenbo, then beat his defender. Torstenbo got the ball back to Warren who dribbled to the top of the key, pump-faked his defender and nailed the three-pointer that sent the Cowboys and their fans into bedlam.
“It was supposed to be a screen for Timmy (Regan),” Warren said of the final play. “But he wasn’t able to get open. So I threw it to Connor and I got by my guy and he found me. And I hit it. It was exciting. It’s one of the best moments I’ve ever had. It’s incredible.”
The game was interesting from the beginning.
Late in the first quarter, the Cowboys led 14-9 and with time running out on the quarter, Warren hoisted a half-court shot and was fouled on the play. He connected on two of the three free throws and in those moments, Glendive’s head coach was whistled for a technical. Gavin Gundlach sank both technical free throws to give the Cowboys an 18-9 lead after the first.
The Cowboys continued to control the tempo of the game through the second quarter, leading by as many as 11 and taking a 28-18 lead into the break.
Fouls were an issue for both teams in the first half. Cowboys Brett Keith and Warren both had three fouls, as did Glendive’s Colter Bachmeier, in the first half.
In the third, the Red Devils scratched their way back into the game, outscoring the Cowboys 13-5 to cut the score to 33-31.
A big blow struck the Red Devils late in the fourth when Bryden Boehning and Tanner Schwartz both fouled out.
“It was a huge factor,” Warren said. “He (Boehning) is a great player. He changes your shot and gets rebounds. So it was a big moment.”
Warren finished with 14 points and eight rebounds to lead the Cowboys. Regan had eight while Gundlach and Stradley each had seven.
Boehning had 10 points and six rebounds to lead the Red Devils.
The Cowboys had played Glendive tough, especially in the last game of the regular season, losing 44-40. They were confident going into the semifinal meeting.
“We were very confident,” Warren said. “There was no way we were going to lose.”
Laurel 39, Miles City 38 (Championship)
When Billings Central beat Hardin in the consolation 84-73, the Cowboys were assured their spot in the Class A state tournament. But they weren’t satisfied with a second-place finish.
The Cowboys gave Laurel all they could handle, holding the lead until the final minute of the game before falling 39-38.
“They did a heck of a job,” Finn said of the Cowboys. “To be up nine or 10 in the fourth, we couldn’t ask for more. The last few minutes we wish the ball bounced our way a little better, but every kid that stepped on the floor did their best to produce.”
Timmy Regan had his best game of the season, scoring all nine of the Cowboys points in the first quarter to keep the Cowboys in it, trailing 11-9.
The Cowboys then took advantage of an ice-cold Laurel team through the second and third quarters.
Laurel went nearly nine minutes without a field goal, stretching from the second into the third quarters, while the Cowboys built a 29-18 lead.
Ending their cold streak, the Locomotives scored seven straight points to cut the Cowboys lead to 29-25 early in the fourth.
But the Cowboys didn’t wilt under the pressure. Brett Keith hit a three, and after four quick Miles City points, the Cowboys lead was back to 10 with 4:14 to play in the game.
Laurel slowly edged into the lead and with 1:17, Dylan Meccage hit a layup to give the Locomotives their first lead sing they led 16-14 midway through the second quarter.
The Cowboys, with Keith, Regan and Warren on the bench having fouled out, decided to play for one shot. They took over a minute off the clock, with Laurel allowing Gavin Gundlach to dribble the time out.
With 10 seconds left, the Cowboys called timeout, looking to get Gundlach a three to win the game.
Coming out of the timeout, Gundlach got the ball, went to the top of the key but his shot was just off. Connor Torstenbo grabbed the rebound and attempted a quick put-back, but it wasn’t to be for the Cowboys and Laurel won the Eastern A title.
“Our boys took that loss hard,” Finn said. “It meant a lot to them and they put a lot into it. And to have that opportunity, it should only help for this weekend as well.”
Regan had 21 points to lead the Cowboys. Warren was held to five points, the first time this season he did not reach double figures.
Laurel was led by Evan Jones with 14 points and Zac Allen with 11.
Cowboys 44, Glendive 41
Glendive 9 9 13 10 - 41
Miles City 18 10 5 11 - 44
Miles City (7-13)- Gavin Gundlach 7, Timmy Regan 8, Austin Stradley 7, Brett Keith 2, Kyle Collins 2, Brac Warren 14, Connor Torstenbo 4.
Glendive (14-5)- Gavin McPherson 3, Carson Oakland 2, Taylor Schwartz 7, Dennis Berg 3, Tanner Schwartz 8, Colter Bachmeier 5, Bryden Boehning 10, Jarod Asche 3.
Laurel 39, Miles City 38
Miles City 9 10 10 9 - 38
Laurel 11 5 6 17 - 39
Miles City (7-14)- Gavin Gundlach 3, Timmy Regan 21, Austin Stradley 1, Brett Keith 3, Kyle Collins 3, Brac Warren 5, Connor Torstenbo 2.
Laurel (18-2)- Tyler Thompson 2, Taylor Maida 3, Dylan Meccage 6, Quinton Holmlund 2, Cooper Love 1, Evan Jones 14, Zac Allen 11.
State tourney schedule
Game 1- Laurel vs. Stevensville, 12:30 p.m. (first-round)
Game 2- Columbia Falls vs. Havre, 2 p.m. (first-round)
Game 3- Dillon vs. Miles City, 6:30 p.m. (first-round)
Game 4- Belgrade vs. Whitefish/Polson winner, 8 p.m. (first-round)
Game 5- Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 12:30 p.m. (loser-out)
Game 6- Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 2 p.m. (loser-out)
Game 7- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6:30 p.m. (semifinal)
Game 8- Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 8 p.m. (semifinal)
Game 9- Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 7, 9:30 a.m. (loser-out)
Game 10- Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 8, 11 a.m. (loser-out)
Game 11- Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 6:30 p.m. (consolation)
Game 12- Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 8 p.m. (championship)