Bigfork Falls to Billings Central in Class A Title Game

The Valkyries' historic first season as a Class A basketball powerhouse ended three points shy of a championship

By Daniel Shepard for 406mtsports.com
Braeden Gunlock of the Bigfork Valkyries takes a shot against the Troy Lady Trojans defense in Bigfork on Feb. 2, 2023. Bigfork won 98-18. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

BUTTE — Months of blood, sweat, and tears boil down to the Class A season’s final day.

Four teams fought Saturday morning for the right to meet in an afternoon third-place game, while Bigfork and Billings Central rested and recharged following dramatic and hard-fought victories Friday night.

Billings Central 41, Bigfork 38 (championship)

Coral Old Bull, shoulder-to-shoulder in a semicircle with her teammates, didn’t know whether to cry or smile.

First the former, then the latter, Old Bull proudly showed off her newly-earned Class A state championship trophy to a throng of rowdy Rams fans with the gold-clad trophy stretched toward the heavens.

“During the game, we go through every feeling there is,” Old Bull said. “You’re scared, you’re nervous, and then as soon as that buzzer goes off, there’s no better feeling.”

Proudly donning jersey No. 52 to honor her late father, Elvis Old Bull, Coral supplied the biggest offensive rebound and lay-up of the Rams’ season late in the fourth, propelling Billings Central to a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

A legendary, larger-than-life figure in Montana sports, Elvis passed away in a car accident 10 years ago, leaving behind a then-seven-year-old Coral.

Somewhere Saturday night, though, he was smiling as Coral held the Crow Tribe flag and sang the Crow victory song post game.

“I know my dad would’ve been so proud of me,” Coral said. “It hurts me that he’s not here with me today, but I know he has the best spot in the house.”

“I’m proud to say I can carry on his legacy with my number and the way I play…I’m proud to say I’m doing my best, but I know he’s probably really proud of me right now.”

Head Rams coach Jetton Ailes, who made certain Coral would sport her father’s number for the Rams, was near tears in the post game scrum, soaking in the mountaintop of a journey years in the making.

Thirty-six years after Elvis guided Lodge Grass to the first of three straight Class B titles, an Old Bull wearing No. 52 was on top again.

“She’s as special as they come,” Ailes said of Coral. “She’s undersized, she doesn’t quit and I’m just so glad she’s a Ram.”

“The Old Bull name is huge in Montana. She carries it with such grace. He’s got the biggest smile shining down on her right now. He guided her through it all.”

Billings Central’s first outright state championship since 2012, the climb was filled with setbacks.

First, COVID that denied the Rams a chance at solo glory in 2020, then consecutive title-game losses to Havre in 2021 and ‘22.

The Havre dragon was slayed Friday night and Bigfork history denied Saturday.

“When you’ve played in four of the last five [title games] and you’ve come up short, it doesn’t sit very well,” Ailes said. “These guys went back to work and they won it for all those that came up just a little bit short…

“This is for everybody that’s set foot in this program, that’s left a mark, and continued a legacy.”

Bigfork took second in the Class A state basketball championship game between Billings Central and Bigfork on March 9, 2024 at the Butte Civic Center. | Thom Bridge, Independent Record/406mtsports

Bigfork, on the cusp of winning consecutive state titles in different classifications, suffered its first loss since Dec. 8, snapping a 22-game win streak.

Ava Davey, a night removed from her semifinal heroics, missed a game-tying triple at the buzzer Saturday night, the Valkyries’ last gasp after Billings Central left the door cracked open with two missed free throws with 7.9 seconds left.

Davey paced Bigfork with 12 points, while the Gunlock sisters combined for 20, seven rebounds, four steals, and three assists.

“Kudos to Bigfork,” Old Bull said. “I think Class B is probably one of the most competitive of all the classes…

“If you have a Gunlock, you know what you’re gonna do, you know what you have to do…She played a really good game, regardless of our game plan, she still executed really well.”

Old Bull grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, including six offensive, in the victory.

Kam Reinker supplied 12 points and seven rebounds, while Ryen Hadley added eight and Annika Stergar six.

“I couldn’t stop crying just a second ago,” Stergar said. “We’ve worked so hard for this second and this moment…

“It’s all paid off. I’m so proud of each and every one of us.”

With 94 ticks on the clock Saturday, and the Rams clinging to a one-point lead, a “Go Rams Go” chant echoed through the Butte Civic Center.

It was loud enough to crumble a half-decade of struggle and frustration.

“We’ve been saying, ‘it’s our turn, it’s our turn,’” Stergar said. “‘It’s time for the Central Rams to get the state title…’

“We’ve worked so hard for it. We deserve it.”