Billings basketball

Billings forward Tyler Essick awaits a rebound against Spokane last week.

Billings coach Kendall Tilley says it’s a true reflection of forward Tyler Essick’s character that he has continued playing with a torn ACL in his left knee.

“He's very stubborn and doesn't like to quit anything,” Tilley said. “I'm proud of the way he's handled everything.”

Essick received word of his injury during the Wildcats’ march to the Walnut Grove Tournament championship in December. He missed four games and has suited up for 10 straight games.

“He’s going to wait on surgery until this summer,” Tilley said.

With surgery and the ensuing nine months of rehab at this time, Essick’s hoops career would not only be over, but his baseball career at Billings would be finished, as well.

“He's a good baseball player and he can play baseball this spring. (I’m) just not sure where and to what degree,” Tilley said. 

Essick wears a brace on his heavily-wrapped knee and is obviously hindered. 

A member of the Wildcats’ 1,000-point club, he was possibly on his way to an All-SWCL First-Team selection while putting up an average of 20.2 points a game through six games.  His norm has been 5.5 points a night over his last 13 contests. He’s remained strong on the boards and is averaging 6.3 rebounds a game on the season.

“(The injury) has slowed him down some and he doesn't explode to the basket as well,” Tilley said. “He can still rebound better than most and his hard work is still there. It has affected our team scoring a bit and allowed some younger guys playing time.”

Sophomore guard Colton Plowman has emerged as Billings’ leading scorer at 13.6 points a game. Another sophomore, center Hayden Fender, is averaging 8.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a night.

Billings (14-9 overall and 3-1 in the SWCL) is fresh from a 65-44 win over Sparta last Friday. Essick contributed eight points and five rebounds. The Wildcats also received 19 points and four blocks from Fender and 16 points from Plowman.

With a strong finish, Billings could contend with Verona (15-4) and host Marionville (14-7) for the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds behind Crane (19-2) in Class 2 District 11. The Wildcats entertain Crane on Tuesday and travel to Purdy on Friday.

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