The Maroons were badly in need of a spark.
A clearly nervous Butte Central girls’ basketball team trailed Stevensville 5-2 midway through the first quarter of Thursday’s first-round game of the Southwestern A Divisional tournament at the Maroon Activities Center.
Then sophomore post player Sierra Pica drove for a bucket to end the dry spell. That cut the lead to 5-4.
More importantly, the hoop broke post-season ice for the Maroons and spared an 11-0 run. Butte Central never looked back, rolling to a 43-24 victory. STATS
The Maroons will now face top-seeded Hamilton in Friday’s 2 p.m. semifinal game.
“I was nervous because they say it’s really hard to beat a team three times in a row,” the 5-foot-9 Pica said. “Coming into the game I felt nervous, and I think our team felt nervous. Once we got into it, we just played the game.”
Pica scored 10 of her game-high 12 points in the first half as BC rolled to a 24-11 halftime lead.
“She really ignited us offensively,” BC coach Meg Murphy said. “Then (Chandra) McCurdy with a couple of quick steals helped us.”
Pica also grabbed six rebounds, sharing the team lead with classmate Teresa Piazzola.
In the second half, it was freshman Mollie Peoples who provided the spark.
Peoples sank a 3-pointer to jump start a 7-0 run late in the third quarter. The bench player scored nine of her 11 points in the second half for the Maroons.
Kayla Peterson scored nine points, and Carly Vercruyssen tossed in eight to lead the Yellowjackets (5-14), who head to loser-out play on Saturday morning.
The Maroons (6-13), who swept the regular season series from the Yellowjackets, also got seven points from senior Shelby Paffhausen, four from Piazzola, three from freshman Emily St. John and two apiece from McCurdy, a senior, and sophomores Ryan Trudnowski and Annie Ossello.
Lacey McGree, Aidan Dennehy, Taylor Wahl and Courtney Thomas also played for the Maroons, who out-rebounded Stevi 30-22.
“Our post people did a good job,” Murphy said. “They went to work and battled on the boards.”
While McCurdy fouled out, Murphy pointed out that BC didn’t fall into early foul trouble. That is what plagued the young Maroons during a six-game losing streak that closed the regular season.
“The biggest difference was that we didn’t get into foul trouble in the first five minutes of the game and put them at the free throw line,” Murphy said. “That’s huge for us.”
Hamilton swept the season series from the Maroons. The 15-3 Broncs, who went 10-0 in Southwestern A play, feature junior Taylor Goligoski. She averages 20.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Pica said she likes her team’s chances of pulling off an upset and preventing the Broncs from beating the Maroons three times this season.
“We’re going to try to shutdown Goligoski,” she said, “and see what happens.”