BC boys derail Locomotives for trip to State A semis

BC boys derail Locomotives for trip to State A semis
Butte Central's Matt Sikins looks to shoot as Laurel's Logan Kennedy defends Thursday afternoon at the Four Seasons Arena. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

GREAT FALLS — On a whiteboard inside Butte Central’s locker room at the Four Season Arena Thursday afternoon was a simple message.

“Focus & concentrate for 32 minutes.”

The Maroons did that and then some as their relentless man-to-man defense led the way to a 35-24 victory over Laurel in the first round of the Class A State boys’ basketball tournament. (Stats)

The game was played in front of a near-capacity crowd at the 5,000-seat arena.

“That was absolutely great defense,” Kelly said. “That was a defensive grinder. When you put Butte Central and Laurel together, that’s what’s going to happen.

“Some people might say it’s ugly,” Kelly added. “I appreciate it. I respect the effort. People don’t realize how hard it is to concentrate on the defensive end and play that kind of effort for that long.”

The win sends the Maroons to the state semifinals for the ninth time in 15 years under head coach Brodie Kelly. At 20-4, BC reached the 20-win mark for the 12th time since the Maroons started playing basketball in 1915.

Butte Central will play defending state champion Hardin in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal. The Bulldogs beat Browning 69-59 right after BC took down the Locomotives.

More than anything, Kelly wrote that message on the board Thursday to remind his players to be themselves.

“Just doing what we’ve been doing since Day 1,” BC junior Matt Simkins explained of BC’s stifling defense. “Crowding the ball and playing our defense, being aggressive with them and not letting them have what they want.

“It starts at practice probably,” Simkins said. “We’ve been practicing defense since December, and we do the same thing every day.”

Really, Kelly’s Maroons know no other way.

“The groundwork has been laid long ago,” Kelly said. “That’s what our program has been built on for 15 years. Guys know what it’s about, believe in it, are taught it from their freshman year on. They know the principles we play with.”

Against the BC man-to-man defense, the Locomotives shot just 8 for 34 from the field. Central also won the battle of the boards 25-19, limiting Laurel to one shot on most possessions.

The Maroons trailed only once, and that was at 5-4.

Then senior Cade Holter peaked around a crowded key to find junior teammate Trevor Neumann in the corner for a wide-open 3-pointer that put the Maroons on top for good at 7-5 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.

Holter delivered a fast-break pass to Simkins for a layup that closed out the first half with BC leading 12-8 at the break.

As it has all year, the offense eventually followed BC’s defense. Well, kind of. The Locomotives were playing some defense themselves.

The Maroons found a way to overcome 19 turnovers to score enough to win.

“It was hard, but at some point something had to give on their defense because they were getting aggressive with us,” Simkins said of playing against Laurel’s defense. “We just got the right number on the board.”

Simkins opened the third quarter with a bucket that started a 10-4 run to give the Maroons a double-digit lead at 22-12. Central led 34-15 after three quarters.

Laurel opened the final stanza with a 7-0 run. It was started by a scramble play that saw Caje Leischner save the ball to Logan Kennedy, who was sitting on the floor after hitting the deck. Kennedy fed Colter Bales for a bucket and a foul.

Simkins answered by hitting a pair of free throws. That started an 11-2 run to close out the game. Nine of those points came from the free throw line. The other came on an inside hoop by junior Braden Harrington, who wears a walking boot to protect his sore foot when he’s not on the court.

Simkins finished with eight points to lead the Maroons in a game in which no player reached double figures scoring on either side.

Holter scored seven points. He also grabbed five rebounds, dished out four assists and collected six steals.

More importantly, Holter held Leischner, Laurel’s leading scorer on the season, to six points.

“He did an awesome job because Leischner can score some points,” Kelly said. “Cade’s been doing that against a lot of great players.”

Kelly, though, pointed out that Holter wasn’t acting alone on the Laurel star.

“A lot of that credit goes to Cade, but it also is collective,” Kelly said. “A lot of help, a lot of guys hedging, a lot of awareness.”

In all, nine different BC players scored points. Neumann tossed in five, while Luke Heaphy netted in four, Harrington scored three, and Jared Simkins, Dylan Sestrich, Gator Yelenich and Aaron Richards each scored two.

Wylee Schnetter came off the bench to score nine points to lead the Locomotives (14-9). Bales joined Leischner with six points. Shel Osborne tossed in two and Eli Aby scored one.

Butte Central didn’t take much time to celebrate the victory. The clapped in the locker room and then turned the page.

“We’re starting to prepare right now,” Matt Simkins said.

Kelly said the Maroons will be ready to play a game that is expected to be an entirely different style than Thursday’s opener. The coach said he isn’t worried about going from a slow game to a potentially up-tempo battle.

The Maroons just have to be themselves.

“I wouldn’t say we’re any tempo team,” the coach said. “We play whatever tempo the game is at. The formula for us doesn’t change.”

There will, however, be a reminder on the whiteboard.

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