HAMILTON - The Sidney party stretched into the night in Hamilton.
At least it did for the hundreds of folks who made the 661-mile trek along Interstate 90 to Hamilton to watch their beloved Eagles.
Sidney defeated two-time defending State A champion Anaconda 49-41 Friday night at Dale Berry Court to earn its first-ever chance at a state title in girls' basketball.
"This is huge," Eagles senior Whitney Thiel said, while surrounded by friends and family. "We haven't made it to state in seven years and now we're playing in the championship game. It means the world to us. All of us - everyone who came here."
Sidney had trailed by five twice in the third quarter before clawing back to a 29-28 score to start the final frame. Anaconda scored the first four points of the fourth for another lead, but foul trouble caught up with the Copperheads and Sidney went 12 of 14 at the foul line over the final eight minutes to pull away down the stretch.
"We had those spurts where we got up four or five points and (Sidney) battled back," Copperheads coach Maury Cook said. "That's been our history. We've done that in the past, but tonight it just wasn't our turn."
The Eagles, which improved to 20-2, made it an all-Eastern A final. Familiar conference foe Billings Central filled the other side of Saturday's title tilt.
The Rams topped Butte Central 57-26 for its first shot at a title since 2004.
On Saturday at 8 p.m., the pair will meet for the fourth time this season. Sidney has won all three meetings, including a 42-31 league championship victory on Feb. 28.
"Billings Central definitely brought their ‘A' game to state and they're playing some really good ball, but we're just going to go back to the game planning and see what we can come up for tomorrow," Sidney coach Jon Skinner said.
Sidney 49, Anaconda 41
The largest crowd of the tournament so far helped set the stage for a clash between the experienced Copperheads and upstart Eagles.
Anaconda senior Lisa Laslovich set the tone for the back-and-forth game with a runner from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded to close the first quarter. Her shot gave the Copperheads a 13-12 lead. Sidney mustered up a 20-19 edge at intermission on a pair of free throws from Thiel.
"Oh boy, it was huge, this crowd was huge," Thiel said of the game's atmosphere.
Behind each basket the student sections erupted with each play.
Copperhead senior Chelsea Galle scored four straight points, including a falling to the floor follow of her own miss, and Anaconda went up 27-22 with 2:17 to play in the third.
Sidney senior star Jordan Sullivan sank two freebies at the line and fed junior Alex Hammer for two easy buckets to bring the Eagles back to 29-28 to start the fourth.
"I told them if it was a close game we'd be the ones to try and pull it out," Skinner said. "Having all those close games (throughout the year) we were able to play with a lot of poise."
After a free throw from Sullivan, Anaconda junior Cara McNeil spun around in the lane and hit a scoop shot. Laslovich hit two more from the foul line to give the Copperheads a 33-29 cushion in the opening minute of the fourth.
That's when the tide shifted in Sidney's favor.
Hammer and Thiel each hit a pair of free throws and two Anaconda starters were sent to the bench with four fouls apiece.
By the time Sullivan added two more free throws with 5:49 left, Sidney had its biggest lead of the game at 37-33. The Eagles jumped in front 41-33 on two more cuts to the basket to cap a 12-0 run.
"When we had the open looks we didn't knock them down and that's sometimes the way it goes," Cook said. "We've been fortunate to shoot the ball well and tonight we just didn't. We didn't really have answer for them tonight defensively."
Hounded by Anaconda senior Korey Krumm, Sullivan hit for 17 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds. She added four assists, three blocks and three steals.
"She is such a special player," Skinner said of Sullivan. "There have been few that have played in Montana that rank close to her. I can't say enough about her other than she makes me look good at times."
Sidney 12 8 8 21 - 49
Anaconda 13 6 10 12 - 41
SIDNEY - Kayla Lake 1-2 1-2 3, Jordan Sullivan 5-12 6-8 17, Janae Moore 2-3 10-10 14, Megan Johnson 0-3 1-2 1, Whitney Thiel 1-3 1-3 3, Alex Hammer 4-5 3-4 11. Totals 13-28 22-29 49.
ANACONDA - Cara McNeil 3-5 0-0 6, Lisa Laslovich 4-13 2-2 12, Rachel Wagner 2-4 2-3 7, Chelsea Galle 3-9 2-4 8, Korey Krumm 0-5 1-2 1, Vanessa Jense 2-9 0-0 5, Jackie Verlanic 0-0 0-0 0, Teryn Green 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 15-47 7-11 41.
3-point goals - Sidney 1-3 (Sullivan 1-2, Thiel 0-1), Anaconda 4-20 (Laslovich 2-7, Wagner 1-3, Jense 1-6, Krumm 0-1, Galle 0-3). Total fouls - Sidney 12, Anaconda 23. Fouled out - none. Rebounds - Sidney 25 (Sullivan 10), Anaconda 23 (Krumm 5). Turnovers - Sidney 16, Anaconda 15.
Billings Central 57, Butte Central 26
Paced by senior Austin Hanser, who snagged five steals, Billings Central collected 28 points off 19 Butte Central turnovers to cruise in the open court.
The Rams also held the Maroons to 24 percent shooting.
The athletic frontcourt of junior Jackie Elliot and seniors Maggie Powell and Marissa Stanton closed down the paint in the second half.
Junior Quinn Peoples, who scored nine points in the first half for Butte Central, was shut down in the second half going 0 for 6 from the floor.
Billings Central also held a 31-16 advantage on the boards.
Hanser scored 12 points and dished out five assists for the Rams. Elliot and senior Shae Chilton added 11 apiece.
Peoples led the Maroons with 11 points.
Malby expects the same kind of effort Saturday to challenge Sidney for the state crown.
"I really felt if we could get out of the Eastern A, we'd have a shot at winning this," he said. "It's pretty exciting, we lost three times to Sidney, but it's state tournament time and we're relaxed."
Bil. Central 15 9 20 13 - 57
Bu. Central 6 9 7 4 - 26
BILLINGS CENTRAL - Jackie Elliott 2-6 7-8 11, Shae Chilton 4-7 0-0 11, Austin Hanser 5-7 2-6 12, Maggie Powell 1-4 0-2 2, Marissa Stanton 2-4 2-4 6, Brenna Chilton 3-6 0-0 8, Miranda Rabold 0-1 0-0 0, Katie Cummins 0-1 0-0 0, Ryanne Frazier 2-2 0-1 5, Kayla Lucas 0-0 2-2 2, Taylor Hanser 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-38 13-23 57.
BUTTE CENTRAL - Kacie McKeon 0-2 0-0 0, Kourtney Kambich 0-1 1-4 1, Lexie Murphy 1-3 1-2 3, Quinn Peoples 4-13 2-2 11, Theresa Banks 2-6 2-2 7, Ashley Kasperick 0-1 0-0 0, Taylure Svejkoosky 0-3 0-0 0, Brynne Kambich 0-1 0-0 0, Breanne Krzah 0-0 0-0 0, McKenzie Doherty 0-0 0-0 0, Hannah Stajcar 0-1 2-2 2, Mariah Cooney 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 8-33 8-12 26.
3-point goals - Bil. Central 6-13 (S. Chilton 3-5, B. Chilton 2-3, Frazier 1-1, A. Hanser 0-1, Elliott 0-3), Bu. Central 2-9 (Banks 1-2, Peoples 1-4, Svejkoosky 0-1, McKeon 0-2). Total fouls - Bil. Central 11, Bu. Central 17. Fouled out - Murphy. Rebounds - Bil. Central 31 (Elliott 10), Bu. Central 16 (Murphy 4). Turnovers - Bil. Central 11, Bu. Central 19.