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Williston, N.D., bull rider Stetson Lawrence scores an 86 on his first ride Thursday night and added an 84.5 on his second to take home the money in the Western Montana Fair Rodeo Bullorama.

The Professional Bull Riders’ Finals are a tough gig to get into, even when your name is Stetson.

But Stetson Lawrence out of Williston, North Dakota, took a step closer to the finals – set for Oct. 22-26 in Las Vegas – with a win at Thursday’s Bitterroot Ford Bullorama, a PBR event at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

Lawrence was one of just three riders out of 20 to get through two rides in front of a good-sized and appreciative crowd. He scored 86 points in the first section and 84.5 in the third for a total of 170.5.

In second was Dakota Louis out of Browning with 162.

Lawrence was ranked 37th in the PBR world standings coming into Missoula, so Thursday helped. It was made more impressive by the rank stock – only 11 out of 39 rides made it to eight seconds.

Quite a few barely made it out of the chute.

“I just try to stay level-headed,” said Lawrence, who turns 26 in November. “Ride my bulls and not let the other stuff get in the way. If you don’t ride your bulls, you don’t get to go anywhere else.”

He just might be going places. Lawrence, who wears a helmet to ride instead of the cowboy hat his name harkens, went to Las Vegas last year as an injury alternate (he was ranked 41st).

He got on a bull the last day of competition, and that experience motivated him.

“I had a rookie mistake,” he said, smiling. “I didn’t pull my rope tight enough and the rope slipped back and I got bucked off at about seven seconds. I had a nice ride going.”

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Lawrence was looking to win around $4,000 for his night’s work, added on to the $59,000 and change he’d earned coming in.

Louis couldn’t complain either. The 21-year-old has been hitting Touring Pro events and won in Lynden, Washington, in April.

“This is all I’ve been doing,” the 2011 Browning High School graduate said. “I haven’t been going to any rodeos.

“Any time you do good, it’s good, and to do it in front of a home-state crowd makes it that much better. We go to so many bull ridings all over the United States and Canada, that once you’re in Montana you’re pretty much home. It feels good to do well in the home state.”

Louis’ brother, Preston Louis, didn’t do as well Thursday, getting nicked up in his first ride. He didn’t take his second shot at a bull.

“He’ll be all right,” Dakota Louis said. Then he and his brother packed up for their next PBR event – in Lashburn, Saskatchewan, on Friday.

Lawrence is headed there, too.

“Thirteen-hour drive,” Lawrence. “It was only 10 over here.”

It’s around 15 hours from Missoula to Las Vegas, by the way. Yet after Thursday it seems a lot closer for Lawrence.

NOTES: Nathan Schaper of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, came in ranked 27th in the PBR standings and owned a 64 riding percentage, but got bucked off his first bull Thursday. He then scored 88 on his second ride. … Kody DeShone had a 79.5, but the Idaho Falls cowboy was bucked off his second ride. … Derek Kolbaba from Walla Walla, Washington, competed in all four sections Thursday and scored twice: A 75.5 and an 84. … Nevada Newman, a 21-year-old out of Melstone and a member of the Montana State University rodeo team, had an 88.5 in the third section. … Taryl Smith of Litchville, North Dakota, scored a 75 in the first section, where five of the 12 cowboys scored. ... John Smith of Malta had an 86.5 in the first section.

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Reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at (406) 523-5247 or at fneighbor@missoulian.com.

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