Bison hold off Bulldogs for State AA loser-out win

Bison hold off Bulldogs for State AA loser-out win
Butte High's Brittney Tierney and Great Falls High's Erin Watt battle for the ball Friday afternoon at the Butte Civic Center. v

By Bruce Sayler

The almosts didn’t add up to be quite enough for the Butte High girls on Friday.

They saw their basketball season end in the loser-out round of state Class AA tournament at the Butte Civic Center. Great Falls High weathered the Bulldogs’ last storm and edged them 40-38. (Stats)

A torrid rally it was, however, as Butte High fans endangered their vocal chords in support of a scrappy, never-say-die, all-heart group of girls’ basketball performers.

“It’s not the way we wanted it to end,” a sad Maury Cook, Butte High head coach, said while battling effects of a cold. “This is a really good group of seniors. We wanted it to be better.”

“I can’t fault the effort. We just didn’t play well in the first half. Then they bottomed out and we were close at the end.”

Paint-on-the-rim close at the end, they were.

Great Falls High led Butte High 33-21 entering the fourth quarter. An Aspen Lovshin 3-point basket for Butte High made it a 39-38 thriller with 58 seconds left on the clock. Much happened in between.

Plenty occurred after Lovshin’s trey, too. Brittney Tierney fouled the Bison’s Hadlee Blaskin with 31 seconds to go. Blaskin made the first free throw and missed the second. The rebound wound up out of bounds off a Great Falls player for Bulldog possession. However, an offensive foul was called against the Bulldogs’ Haley Herron, turning the ball back over to the Bison.

Butte High’s Ally Cleverly fouled Ryen Palmer and the Great Falls standout missed both foul shots. Herron grabbed the rebound and a good-looking Cleverly 3-point shot from the top of the key glanced just off the front of the rim with 12 seconds left.

Jorgie Hawthorne rebounded for the Bison and Herron fouled out trying to get her to give up the ball. With 3 seconds on the clock, Hawthorne was off on both of her charity tosses, too, and Lovshin chased down the loose-ball rebound. She passed to McCaul McCarthy over the halfcourt line. McCarthy cast off from afar toward the basket and the ball pounded off the heel of the hoop and then away from the hole.

Time expired on the shot and Great Falls High players celebrated the win on the floor while the Bulldogs walked in disappointment to their locker room.

“They set the tone for Butte High basketball,” Cook said as the players filed out of the locker room. “I hope our young kids see the effort of these guys the last four years, and do i.t again.”

The Civic Center crowd certainly appreciated the effort.

It was still a 12-point margin in Great Falls High’s favor at 37-25 with 6:05 showing o the clock. Butte High wasn’t ready to call it quits, yet. Lovshin netted two freebies and then Herron powered to the hoop for a bucket. She added a free throw a minute later after being fouled on another move to the basket.

Morgan Sunchild drove the lane for a Great Falls layup and a 39-30 advantage with 3:38 to go. Herron took a pass from Cleverly for a basket and then passed to Cleverly on a kickout that Cleverly drained for a 3, narrowing the gap to 39-35 with 1:22 left.

After Bleskin missed a free throw on a one-and-one opportunity at the 1:06 mark on the Bison end, Herron grabbed the rebound. She passed to Cleverly, who relayed it to the open Lovshin on the outside. The Butte High shooter stretched net with the shot and the one-point difference was reached, setting up the final frantic minute.

“It seemed like every game this year we’d have one player struggling to get her shot off,” Cook said, wondering how the season would have gone if all the Butte High shooters were able to rally as an offensive corps. “Hat’s off to Great Falls. They played their best basketball today.”

The Bison led 10-7 after one quarter and 21-17 at halftime. They dominated the third quarter to open the 33-21 command.

Erin Watt led Great Falls High with 13 points and the 9-15 Bison will play Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in an elimination game at Butte High against the loser of Friday’s Missoula Hellgate-Billings West semifinal.

Cleverly was 5-for-8 from 3-point range while scoring a game-high 17 points. She and Herron each had five rebounds. Lovshin scored 10 points. The Bulldogs were a good 7-for-19 from behind the arc.

Herron finished with five points, Tierney with three, McCarthy with two and Makenna Carpenter with one. Justise Birkenbuel, Kira Mortensen and Trisha Ericson also saw action. The Bulldogs completed a winning season at 16-7.

Lovshin, Birkenbuel, Cleverly and Tierney all graduate this year. Herron, Carpenter and Mortensen will be seniors next year with experience at starters. Also expected back are current juniors Ericson and Grace McGrath, and sophomores McCarthy, MacKenzie Tutty and Chloe Carpenter off the varsity roster. Junior alternate Cassie Hammack will also likely return.

So, Cook voiced sorrow in saying goodbye to the core group of seniors who have accompanied his four-year tenure at Butte High, and glimpsed to what he should be a bright future with the good younger players coming back.

“Having Ally and Asp and Britt and Justise to coach for four years has been an honor,” he said. “McCaul McCarthy came in today and gave us some huge minutes. She did a phenomenal job and gives an incredible effort. She plays hard.”

He credited undersized posts Herron and Carpenter for their hard play and improvement all year. Mortensen missed much of the season because of concussion effects that also limited her minutes when she was available.

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