By Bill Foley
Step 1 is behind the Butte Central boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.
The Maroon girls won the Southwestern A District tournament Saturday in Butte. The BC boys placed second. More importantly, the Maroons, as they say, survived and advanced the first weekend of postseason basketball.
Central’s boys open at 2 p.m. Thursdsay against Libby. The BC girls play at 5 p.m. against Whitefish. All Central games will be carried live on KOPR (94.1 FM, online or on the KOPR app).
The top four teams from each tournament advance to the combined Class A State tournament, which is March 7-9 in Great Falls.
On the girls’ side, the Maroons (9-11) enter playing their best basketball. Senior guard Tricia Joyce earned MVP honors at the district tournament. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Emma Keeley, a junior, and Sofee Thatcher, a freshman. BC senior Bella Sorini received an honorable mention.
Central’s season is one of a tremendous turnaround and one that longtime BC coach Meg Murphy called her most rewarding. It started with a 64-17 loss to Columbia Falls in the tipoff tournament in Missoula. Now, the Maroons are two wins away from yet another trip to state under Murphy.
The Maroons have just 13 players in their entire program, and they will all make the trip to Hamilton.
Senior Shea Davis is a major contributor for the Maroons along with sophomores Amira Bolton, Maddie Kump, Avery Kelly, Delaney Hasquet and Taylor Harrington. Freshmen Payton Hartwick, Brenna Foley and Rileigh McGree have also seen varsity time for the Maroons, who have played on Saturday of state the last four seasons.
First up for the Maroons is Ronan (9-12). The Maidens placed fourth in last week’s Northwestern A District tournament in Whitefish. Libby topped Ronan 48-26 in the third-place game.
Post player Jaylea Lunceford leads the Maidens, averaging 10.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Tiana Ulutoa adds 9.0 points per game.
The Maroons are on the same side of the bracket as Browning (15-5) and Frenchtown (10-11). The Indians and Broncs play at 3:30.
Browning is playing without top scorer Tamika Guardipee, who suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the season. She was averaging 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game at the time of the injury.
Frenchtown placed third in the Southwestern A, while Browning fell 55-49 to Columbia Falls in the title game of the Northwestern A tournament.
Ryley Kehr scored 19 points to lead the Wildcats in the title tilt. Columbia Falls (19-1) plays Corvallis (13-8), the No. 4 seed from the Southwestern A, at 9:30 a.m. Libby (14-8) and Hamilton (12-9) play at 11.
Libby is the third seed from the Northwest, while Hamilton is No. 2 seed from the Southwestern A.
The Butte Central boys fell 54-52 to Hamilton in the Southwestern A District championship game. That loss put BC in the same side of the bracket with Northwestern A champion Browning.
Central beat Browning 58-50 on Day 2 of the tipoff tournament in Missoula. Browning hasn’t lost since. The 19-1 Indians ride an 18-game winning streak to Hamilton.
Tyree Whitcomb, a 6-foot-7 senior, averages 18.1 points and 10.2 rebounds to lead Browning. Heart Butte transfer Riley Spoonhunter has fit in nicely in Browning. He averages 12.8 points per game. Deion Mad Plume scored 25 points as Browning beat Polson 78-58 in the district title game.
Browning takes on Frenchtown (13-9), the No. 4 seed from the Southwestern A, at 12:30.
Before the Maroons can worry about Browning, a team coach Brodie Kelly’s Maroons know well from their days in the Central A, however, BC has to take care of business against Libby (14-8). The Loggers are the No. 3 seed from the Northwestern A.
Keith Johnson, a 6-2 junior forward, scored 20 points to lead the Loggers to a 65-51 win over Columbia Falls in the Northwestern A consolation game. Ryggs Johnston, a 6-3 senior guard who is best known for his four state golf titles, scored 15.
Johnston averages 20.9 points per game in the regular season. Johnson scores 11.9 points to go along with 7.2 rebounds.
The Maroons have what could be their most deep and versatile roster in Kelly’s 15 years at the helm.
Senior Cade Holter finished runner up in MVP voting following the Southwestern A District tournament. He was joined on the All-Tournament team by junior Braden Harrington. Juniors Matt Simkins and Gator Yelenich each received an honorable mention.
Other key performers for the Maroons are senior Dylan Sestrich, juniors Jared Simkins, Luke Heaphy, Trevor Neumann and Aaron Richards. Either can step up and lead the Maroons at any time.
Senior Patrick Dolan, juniors Ryan Wahl and Thomas McGree and sophomores Egan Lester and Brian Holland have also contributed at the varsity level. They’ll make the trip to Hamilton.
The other half of the bracket, Polson (9-12) take on Dillon (15-7) play at 6:30 p.m. Whitefish (13-7) will take on Southwestern A champion Hamilton (17-3) and tournament MVP Hunter Omlid at 8.
Dillon bounced back from a semifinal loss to Butte Central to claim third at the Southwestern A tournament. Dillon’s Michael Haverfield, a future Montana Western Bulldog, earned a spot on the All-Tournament team. Dylan Cervelli received an honorable mention.