By Bill Foley
What a difference 20 hours made for the Butte Central boys’ basketball team.
The Maroons went from severe depression following a semifinal blowout loss to Dillon to extreme satisfaction hoisting the third-place trophy Saturday at the Western A Divisional tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
BC earned that trophy by gutting out a 45-42 victory over Hamilton in the consolation championship game. The win came seven hours after BC knocked off Corvallis to punch its ticket to next week’s Class A State tournament in Missoula. Stat sheet
“It was a great day for us,” BC coach Brodie Kelly said. “It was awesome. I couldn’t be happier today after last night.”
The win was also the first over BC for the Maroons, who dropped both regular-season games to the Broncs.
“It’s pretty good to finally get them and go to the state tournament after two straight wins,” BC junior Nate McGree said after scoring points and grabbing seven rebounds in the consolation game. “We’re really excited.”
The victory was clearly one two tired teams wanted badly, even though both had already locked up a trip to state.
The fatigue of the Maroons and Broncs showed with jumper after jumping bouncing off the front of the rim. The Maroons hit on 31 percent of their shots (25 percent in the first half).
BC’s defense, though, kept the Maroons in striking distance. Then, the Maroons hit the shots when they needed to.
“We just kept getting stop after stop, and finally our shots started falling,” McGree explained.
“I was really happy with how well we guarded them,” Kelly said. “That is a really potent team, even though they were fatigued, too.”
After the Maroons took a 6-0 lead on a Cole Harper 3-pointer and a three-point play by McGree, the Brroncs closed the first quarter on a 13-4 run to take a 13-11 advantage.
Hamilton led 19-16 after a low-scoring second quarter, and the Broncs led 29-24 after three quarters.
BC’s offense, which has seen many peaks and valleys throughout the season, went extremely cold.
After a Tanner Kump 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 9 seconds left in the second quarter, the Maroons didn’t make a field goal until McGree opened the fourth quarter with an inside hoop.
Harper followed with a 3-pointer, and the Maroons were off on an 11-3 run that gave them the lead for good.
Harper made another 3-pointer, and junior Sam Johnston connected on an old-fashioned three-point play to help the Maroons hold onto the lead.
“After being that fatigued, for Cole to hit those two (threes) late was huge,” Kelly said.
Harper scored a team-leading 18 points. He hit five 3-pointers.
“He’s crazy,” McGree said of BC’s only senior starter. “He never wants to lose.”
Kump scored eight points in the win, while Johnston tossed in five and Riley Richardson and Cade Holter each scored two. BC also got contributions from Tyge Yelenich, Dan McCloskey and Archie Petritz.
Kelly pointed to the play of Johnston, who teammates call “Stu.”
“Stu, he was pretty awesome,” Kelly said. “He made a ton of hustle plays. He got his hands on a lot of balls, and he made some good passes. Honestly, that’s his best game of the year.”
Carter Kearns scored 15 points to lead the Broncs (12-10). He was the lone Hamilton player to reach double figures.
For Hamilton coach Travis Blome, a former Montana Western quarterback who served as an assistant on the Butte High football and basketball teams, the day was bittersweet. The Broncs lost to a conference rival, but Hamilton is breaking a long state-tournament drought.
“Overall it’s just exciting that we get to go and compete in it,” Blome said. “Every time you suit up you want to go win. It was difficult for us.”
The Maroons (13-9) will play against the No. 2 team from the Eastern A (Havre or Hardin) at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Class A State tournament in Missoula.
Hamilton will play the No. 1 team from the East at noon.