By Bill Foley
Brayden Koch made sure that the Butte High boys’ basketball team did not get off to a strong start to the 2021 season.
The Helena Capital junior poured in 29 points to lead the way Thursday night, and the Bruins opened the season with a 76-69 win over the Bulldogs at the Butte Civic Center.
Koch scored the Bruins first eight points as Capital took the lead for good with an 11-2 run to begin the game, and season. His points came on a pair of 3-pointers and a two-handed dunk on a fast break.
Trysten Mooney followed with a baseline 3-poitner for Capital, which sank its first three 3-point attempts to knock the Bulldogs out of their 2-3 zone defense.
“We came out and we were not ready defensively, and he got some easy ones,” Bulldog coach Matt Luedtke said. “When you’re a shooter, if you are allowed to get in your comfort zone, it’s going to be a long night for the other team. It was a long night for us.”
Butte High played man-to-man defense most of the way, and the Bulldogs made some runs. Every time, though, the Bruins had an answer.
“We kind of came out of the zone based on the fact that we weren’t playing hard enough in the zone to cover the shooters,” Luedtke said. “They were getting it to the high post and short corner way too easy. Those are things when you’re running the zone that you just can’t allow to happen.”
Capital led 19-14 after the first quarter, and the Bruins extended the lead to 39-27 when Jacob Curry converted a three-point play with 1 minute 27 seconds left in the first half.
The Bulldogs closed the half with a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 39-33. That run was highlighted by a Billy “The Kid” Kelly 3-pointer off a nice pass from Kenley Leary and a put back by Jake Olson.
Butte High opened the third quarter quickly. Senior Blake Drakos sank a 3-pointer before sophomore Mikey O’Dell drove baseline to cut the lead to 39-38.
Capital, though, scored the game’s nine points. That included a 3-pointer by Tyler Tenney.
The Bruins led 53-46 going into the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs again made several runs. Each time, the Bruins had an answer.
The hot-shooting Bruins hit 10 3-pointers on the night. Koch sank six of those.
Hayden Opitz added 10 points for Capital, which got eight points from Malachi Syvrud and Curry. Mooney, Tenny and Luke Dowdy each scored five, Derrick Kirkland scored four, and Cason VanHemelryck netted two.
“They’ve got some good players,” Luedtke said. “The Koch kid is phenomenal.”
Butte’s coach said the loss was disappointing.
“The biggest thing is they came and played to win, and we didn’t,” Luedtke said. “We were scared and tentative at times. My philosophy is to be aggressive and attack, and we didn’t do that tonight as well as we could.”
Drakos sank four 3-pointers and scored a career-high 18 points to lead four Bulldogs in double figures. Kelly scored 14, Eric Loos tossed in 11, and Olson scored 10.
The Bulldogs also got eight from O’Dell, five from Cael Stenson and three from Leary. Kooper Klobucar also saw time for the Bulldogs, who play at Helena High on Saturday.
“We did make some good runs, and we had some bright spots,” Luedtke said. “Blake Drakos was absolutely awesome. He brought toughness. He played like a Butte kid. I don’t think that we got that from every kid and every play.
“They just played harder than we did and wanted it more. I think that’s what it comes down to. Hopefully we can fix it and move forward.”
The game was the first of 14 Western AA games for the Bulldogs, who are coming off an appearance at the Class AA State tournament. Luedtke expects his team to be better this year than it was last year.
“It’s very, very disappointing because we have a lot of potential to be really good,” the coach said. “I just don’t think that we gave our best effort tonight.”
HELENA CAPITAL (1-0) — Hayden Opitz 4 2-5 10, Trysten Mooney 1 2-2 5, Brayden Koch 7 9-10 29, Malachi Syvrud 3 1-2 8, Tyler Tenney 2 0-0 5, Carson VanHemelryck 1 0-0 2, Derrick Kirkland 2 0-0 4, Jacob Curry 2 3-3 8, Nick Michelotti 0 0-0 0, Luke Dowdy 2 1-2 5. Totals 24 18-24 76.
BUTTE HIGH (0-1) — Blake Drakos 6 2-3 18, Cael Stenson 1 2-2 5, Billy Kelly 4 3-3 14, Mikey O’Dell 3 2-2 8, Jake Olson 4 2-6 10, Eric Loos 2 7-7 11, Kenley Leary 1 1-1 3, Kooper Klobucar 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 19-24 69.
Capital 19 20 14 23 — 76
Butte 14 19 13 23 — 69
3-point goals — Capital 10 (Koch 6), Mooney, Syvrud, Curry, Tenney), Butte 8 (Drakos 4, Kelly 3, Stenson). Fouls — Capital 21, Butte 17. Fouled out — Tenney, Kelly. Technicals — none.