Bruins turn back Bulldogs in heated Western AA game

By Bill Foley

When it came to effort, Butte High’s basketball coach Matt Luedtke could not have been happier with how his team played Tuesday night.

As for the rest of it, however, it was a night to forget.

Undefeated Helena Capital fought off an inspired effort by the Bulldogs for an 80-60 Western AA victory played in a less-than-fun atmosphere at the Butte Civic Center.

From the start, the game was dominated by chirping at the officials from fans of both sides. The bickering continued through the final whistle, and Luedtke was ejected from the game after receiving a pair of quick technical fouls in the third quarter.

“I’m going to have to miss a game,” Luedtke said, citing the rule that automatically suspends a coach one game for an ejection. “I’m disappointed.”

In the end, the Bruins were just too powerful.

Senior Brayden Koch, a 6-foot-3 future Carroll College Fighting Saint, scored 31 points to lead Capital to its ninth win in nine tries. The Bruins are 5-0 in Western AA play.

Capital also got 2 points from Jacob Curry and 12 from Hayden Opitz.

“Curry had 21, and that’s key,” Capital coach Guy Almquist said. “We need that second or third guy. I know what Brayden is going to get us.”

The Bruins needed some adjustments to fight off a Butte High team that led most of the first quarter.

The Bulldogs led 16-11 when sophomore Bo Demarais scored on a put back with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first.

Tyler Kovick, though, turned a three-point play to start a 7-0 run to close the quarter. That gave Capital a 18-16 lead, and the Bruins never trailed.

Butte High threatened a few times, but the Bruins turned back each of the Bulldog runs.

“The bottom line is they are just a really good team,” Luedtke said.

Capital opened the second quarter with an 1-3 run. Butte High countered with seven straight, only to see the Bruins score eight straight and lead 37-29 at the half.

The Bruins extended the lead to 49-38 before Luedtke exited with 2:43 left in the third quarter. Luedtke was called for a technical by one official from the other end of the court. Then he received another from an official seconds later.

Before he left, Luedtke directed a swearword the official who called the second technical.

“I’m disappointed in myself for getting throw out,” Luedtke said. “It was tough. When your guys are out their working their butts off and can’t seem to catch a break, it gets frustrating.”

The ejection was the first for Luedtke, as a coach or a player.

Curry hit 3 of 4 technical shots to make it a 52-38 lead, and Capital took a 59-42 advantage into the fourth.

Any Butte High comeback were killed when Koch opened the frame with three 3-pointers.

“He’s a special player,” Luedtke said of Koch. “I think he’s hands down the best player in the state. No disrespect to other players out there who are good. We’ve got some really good players on our team, too. We’re just getting better and better.”

Junior Jace Stenson scored 25 points to lead three Bulldogs in double figures. Of those, 18 came in the second half. Senior Kooper Klobucar scored 14 points, and junior Cameron Gurnsey tossed in 13.

“I thought Butte was game tonight,” Almquist said. “They were really competitive early, and they’re a tough matchup to defend. They’ve got some kids who have some unique talents.

“They did a good job against our zone, and we had to go man to man. We had to respond, and I’m happy they responded the way they did.”

Almquist spoke specifically of the 6-foot-6 Klobucar.

“He’s a very tough player,” the Capital coach said. “We had to take our plan and put it in the garbage pretty early. It just wasn’t working. I’m not sure we ever figured it out.”

Demarais finished with six points for Butte High, and Jonas Sherman scored two.

Senior Kenley Leary and freshman Tocher Lee also contributed for the Bulldogs, who fell to 2-8 and 2-4. Leary was playing despite suffering a leg injury in Friday’s win at Missoula Sentinel.

“Those guys left it out in the floor,” Luedtke said. “You could see it in their faces when we went in the locker room, and I’m really proud of them. Capital is impressive. They’re good.

“Every single guy that stepped on the floor game 100 percent, and that is all you can ask.”

Butte High will head to Helena High without Luedtke on Thursday. Butte High is back at home Feb. 4-5 to take on the Kalispell schools.

That will begin a stretch where Butte High will play five out of six at home.

HELENA CAPITAL (9-0 4-0) — Hayden Opitz 4 4-9 12, Trysten Mooney 1 1-2 3, Brayden Koch 12 1-2 31, Nick Michelotti 1 2-4 4, Jacob Curry 5 7-8 21, Luke Dowdy 2 0-0 4, Hudsen Grovom 0 0-1 0, Tyler Kavick 1 1-3 3, Jamey Michelotti 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 16-29 80.
BUTTE HIGH (2-8, 2-4) — Jace Stenson 8 6-9 25, Cameron Gurnsey 4 4-7 13, Kenley Leary 0 0-0 0, Bo Demarais 3 0-0 6, Kooper Klobucar 6 2-3 14, Jonas Sherman 0 2-2 2, Tocher Lee 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 14-21 60.
Capital           18        19        22        21 — 80
Butte               16        13        14        17 — 60

3-point goals — Capital 10 (Koch 6 Curry 4), Butte 4 (Stenson 3, Gurnsey 1). Fouls —Capital 21, Butte 18. Fouled out — Dowdy. Technicals — Matt Luedtke 2.