BC boys ride into season with lofty expectations

Maroons set for busy pre-Christmas schedule

By Bill Foley

A year ago, the Maroons entered the boys’ basketball season with relatively low expectations placed upon themselves.

Butte Central lost most of its 2020 state championship team to graduation, and the Maroons began the year with young talent and a whole lot of question marks.

Under the radar, the Maroons then went onto play in the Class A State tournament for the 15th time in head coach Brodie Kelly’s 17 seasons in charge of the Maroons. (Roster)

This time around, the Maroons will no longer have the luxury of low expectations. Central opens the season with the “contender” label slapped on it.

They have nobody to blame but themselves.

“Last year, nobody had any expectations,” Kelly said of a year in which BC overcame a slow start to go 12-10 and ending the campaign on Saturday morning of the State tournament. “The whole season had a whole positive vibe around it. Everybody was positive, and it was a good feeling throughout the end of the season.

“This year, people are setting the bar higher,” Kelly said. “But Class A is going be a battle. It is going to be so tough.”

The Maroons return All-State junior Dougie Peoples and all-conference selections in senior Bryson Sestrich and junior Kyle Holter. BC also adds Butte High transfer Eric Loos, a 6-foot-4 junior, to a roster that is full of talent.

Still, Kelly said he is not quite sure how his talent stacks up in a Class A that returns a bunch of talent around the state.

“I’d say we’re contenders,” Kelly said. “I’m not sure people would put us in the top five. There’s some dude’s coming back. There’s a lot of returning all-conference and All-State players. I think like an unusual number.”

BC fans will get their first look at the Maroons Friday and Saturday at the Northwestern/Southwestern A Tipoff Tournament in Frenchtown. Central will play Polson at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. The Maroons face Bigfork at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

“I’m excited about this group of guys,” Kelly said. “The practices have been competitive. I just feel like we’ve got of guys who can score in double figure.”

Last season, Peoples, who has grown to 6-4, averaged 19.3 points per game. That included 19.9 points in the regular season.

That put Peoples on the verge of joining some pretty lofty company.

Only five Maroons have ever averaged 20 points or more during a season. They are Joe Antonietti (23.6 points in 1969), Justin Thatcher (21.6 in 1998), Mike Judd (20.8 in 1966), John Sullivan (20.6 in 1986) and Mike Ferko (20.4) in 1976. Others to come close are Craig Tippett (19.9 in 2002), Andy Davis (19.6 in 1977), Rob Spear (19.5 in 1976), Tom Kenney (19.4 in 1985) and the legendary “Jumpin’” Joe Kelly (19.1 in 1944).

“It’s pretty rare territory to get 20 a game,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t something going into the season that he expected or I saw coming. It just happened. With our team chemistry and his skills, it just led to him scoring a ton.”

The Maroons lost four players to graduation, including two starters.

Peoples, Holter and Sestrich are returning starters. Senior Drew Badovinac is coming off a fantastic postseason that saw him go from defensive specialist to go-to scorer. Badovinac and Loos, who saw time for Butte High’s varsity team as a freshman and sophomore, will join the three returning starters in the starting lineup.

Sophomores Jack Keeley and Zane Moodry and senior Joe Sehulster are expected to be the first players off the bench.

Kelly, though, said he has a lot of players competing for playing time. That includes seniors Gage Guldseth and George Riojas and junior Rye Doherty.

Central has a buys slate of six games before Christmas, including three Southwestern A contests.

Central opens conference play Dec. 16 at East Helena, and the Maroons play their first home game two days later against Dillon. After a home game Dec. 21 against Corvallis, BC will play Butte High Dec. 23.

Central begins the New Year Jan. 6 at home against Livingston. Dillon will host the Southwestern A District tournament Feb. 17-19. The Western A Divisional tournament is the following week in Hamilton.

Missoula will set the scene for the Class A State tournament March 10-12. The Maroons and their fans enter the season expecting to be one of the eight teams in Missoula, but they know that will not be easy.

Kelly, who will be assisted by his brother Renzy along with Alex Murphy and Colin Hollow, said last year’s run to State should help get his team off to a solid start.

“I just think psychologically it’s a huge thing,” Kelly said of playing Saturday at State. “They know how hard it is.”

Kelly pointed to perennial powers like Dillon, Hamilton and Frenchtown when emphasizing how difficult it is to advance to State.

“It’s good to have high expectations because it means you’re doing something right,” he said. “But you’ve got to be realistic.”