The game started as a tear jerker. It ended with heartache.
Paige Vinger scored off a perfect pass from Mika Robinson with 3 seconds left in overtime to give No. 3-ranked Billings West a 67-65 Eastern AA victory Thursday night at the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym.
The loss put a damper on an emotional Senior Parent Night celebration for the Bulldogs in their regular-season finale.
The win keeps Billings West’s hopes of winning the Eastern AA regular season title alive.
“The nice thing is we have girls who have been on the varsity team for a couple of years,” West first-year head coach Charlie Johnson said. “They don’t panic. They’ve been in the moment, and we had seniors make big plays.”
The night was full of big plays from both sides. West happened to make the last two.
Jessi Zuroff, who was the hero of the final seconds of regulation, buried a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in overtime to tie the game at 65.
The next points came when Robinson, who scored a game-high 21 points, drove in the paint. She passed up a contested shot to hit the wide-open Vinger for the game winner.
“At the end it was a great pass by Mika,” said Johnson, the son of 1970s Butte Central star Ray Jay Johnson. “It’s something I see her do every day at practice. People think she’s a selfish player and wants to shoot the ball every time. No, she’s the ultimate team player.
“She could have shot that, forced it,” Johnson said. “But we always talk about making that extra pass to get somebody a better shot.”
The game started with a display of sportsmanship from both sides.
Senior Hailey Hoagland missed the entire season after her second ACL tear in less than two years. She had surgery and spent the season on the bench in street clothes.
Thursday night she wore her No. 10 uniform for the pregame Senior Parent Night presentation.
“She put her uniform on to walk across the court with her parents and asked if she had to change to sit on the bench,” Butte High coach Liza Dennehy said. “I said, ‘no.’ Then I thought about it and said, ‘I think we’re starting you, but you’ve got to pinky swear you’re not moving.'”
Noticing the magnitude of the moment, West’s players didn’t attempt to get the ball on the jump. Butte High senior Andie Hogan came down with the ball, and she passed it out of bounds so the Bulldogs could sub McKaul Ori for Hoagland.
“He’s a class guy. He knew what we were doing,” Dennehy said of Johnson. “He’s a pretty classy guy. That was nice of him.”
West then went out and scored the game’s first 10 points.
“It took us a little while to get going,” Dennehy said. “Senior night’s a little emotional for people.”
The Bulldogs rebounded.
Hogan scored off an Ashten McCloskey pass, and senior Maria Richardson scored seven straight points in 15-4 run that ended with a Sammy McGree jumper that made it 15-14 in favor of the Bulldogs.
A bucket by Cody Rogers put West back up 17-16 after one quarter.
“We talked about the fact that it’s our last home game, it’s not our last game,” Denney said. “We’ve got a lot of basketball left. The kids responded and we played well.”
Butte High led 32-31 at halftime, and West led 50-48 after three quarters.
The Bulldogs led 57-55 late in the fourth quarter thanks to some big buckets down the stretch by McGree, Hogan and Maria Michelotti.
Zuroff, though, refused to let the game end that way by hitting a contested shot in the paint with 7 seconds left in the game to send it to overtime.
“We’re fortunate to get one,” Johnson said. “Butte played great tonight. I bet they shot close to 50 percent on threes.”
West, which improved to 16-3 overall and 9-2 in conference, had four players score in double figures.
Zuroff tossed in 12 points, while Erin Schreibeis scored 11 and Vinger netted 10.
Butte High hit connected on 3-pointers 10 times
McGree hit two and scored 18 to lead the Bulldogs, who fell to 8-12 and 3-9. Richardson sank three long balls and scored 14, while Ori hit two and netted nine.
Butte High also got seven points from Hogan, five from Michelotti and Bethany McLean, four from McCloskey and three from Kassidy Caprara.
Ellie Hofenbacker also saw some court time for the Bulldogs.
The game was the last at home for seniors Richardson, McGree, Hogan, Kendall Alley, Rebecca Jo Montgomery and, of course, Hoagland.
“I can’t say enough about my seniors,” Dennehy said. “They come to work every day with smiles on their faces. They set an example day in and day out. They’re going to be successful in whatever they do.”
Butte High’s next game will be a road playoff game.
BILLINGS WEST (16-3, 9-2)
Paige Vinger 4 2-3 11, Steph Boehm 1 1-2 3, Jessi Zuroff 4 2-2 12, Mika Robinson 8 0-0 21, Erin Schreibeis 5 2-4 11, Delaney Clement 0 0-0 0, Mackenzie Shellnutt 2 2-4 6, Cody Rogers 2 0-0 4. Totals 26 8-15 67.
BUTTE HIGH (8-12, 3-9)
Hailey Hoagland 0 0-0 0, Mariah Richardson 5 1-2 14, Sammy McGree 5 6-9 18, Maria Michelotti 2 1-7 5, Andie Hogan 3 0-0 7, McKaul Ori 2 3-5 9, Bethany McLean 2 0-0 5, Ashten McCloskey 1 1-2 4, Kassidy Caprara 1 1-2 3, Ellie Hoffenbacker 0 0-0 0.Totals 21 13-27 65.
West 16 15 19 7 10 — 67
Butte 15 17 16 9 8 — 65
3-point goals — West 7 (Robinson 5, Zuroff 2), Butte 10 (Richardson 3, McGree 2, Ori 2, McCloskey, McLean, Hogan). Fouls — West 22, Butte 18. Fouled out — Boehm. Technicals — none.