Bulldog girls eye State championship

Butte High will be the opening act of the girls’ side of the Class AA State tournament when the Bulldogs take on Kalispell Glacier at noon at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. (Bracket)

Butte High is looking for its first girls’ basketball State title, and the Bulldogs hit the road feeling like they have the team to bring home the top trophy.

The Bulldogs (18-3) enter the tournament winners of 14 of their last 15 games. That run includes last week’s 52-36 playoff victory over Billings Skyview.

That run doesn’t include a game against Glacier (17-4). When these two teams tip off Thursday it will mark the first time the schools have ever met in basketball.

The Wolfpack also enters the tournament on a roll, winners of eight of nine games. That includes last week’s 48-38 home playoff win over Helena High.

Cassidy Hashley, a 6-foot-1 junior post, leads Glacier into action. She averages 14.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. Hailee Bennett, a 5-7 freshman guard who is second on the team in scoring with 7.2 points per game, scored 12 to lead Glacier in the playoff win. She also dishes 4.1 assists per game, good for fourth in the Class AA.

Three Bulldogs average in double figures scoring, led by senior Natalee Faupel. The future MSU-Northern Skylight averages 13.6 points and a team-leading 8.0 rebounds per game. Junior Sammy McGree averages 11.6 points, while classmate Hailey Hoagland, who sat out last year’s State tournament with a torn ACL, averages 10.8.

Senior point guard Hattie Thatcher runs the show for the Bulldogs. The future Montana Tech Oredigger scores 8.3 points per game and averages a Class AA-best 5.3 assists per game.

Carlie Haeffner, a 6-foot senior, rounds out the starting lineup for the Bulldogs. Haeffner, who averages 5.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, will be key for a Bulldog team that faces the prospects of taking on several solid post players this weekend.

Mariah Michelotti, a 5-9 sophomore, will help in that role. Bulldog coach Jeff Arntson called on Michelotti for big minutes in the playoff win.

Mariah Richardson and Erika McLeod have been major contributors off the bench. Bethany McLean, Ashten McCloskey, Andie Hogan, McKaul Ori, Lexi Murphy and Kassidy Caprara have also seen time for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs are the No. 2 seed in the Eastern AA. When they lost out to Great Falls High for the top spot, the biggest loss was ending in the same side of the bracket as defending champion Missoula Sentinel (19-1).

The Spartans, who beat Butte High in the first round last year at State, play upset-minded Billings West (11-10) at 1:30 p.m. The winners of the first two games meet in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal.

Other games pit Helena Capital (18-2) against Billings Senior (13-8) at 6:30 p.m. Great Falls High (17-3) takes on Kalispell Flathead (11-9) at 8.

The Bulldogs are making their unprecedented eighth straight trip to State under Arntson.

Butte High reached the championship game in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Click here for a look at rosters and complete stats from each Class AA State team, as compiled by Lowell Peterson.