By Bill Foley
It is safe to say the Bulldogs’ month-long slump is finally over.
The Bulldogs put together their second solid performance in less than 24 hours Friday afternoon, beating Kalispell Flathead 64-34 in a loser-out game at the Western AA Divisional girls’ basketball tournament at Missoula Sentinel. (Flathead stats; Butte stats)
The win sends Butte High to Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. round at Hellgate High School to take on Kalispell Glacier, which fell 44-41 to Helena Capital in the semifinals. If the Bulldogs win that game, they’ll head to the third-place game. (Bracket)
A win would also qualify Butte High for the Class AA State tournament, which is next week in Bozeman.
“We for sure had an end-of-the-season slump,” Butte High senior guard Grace McGrath said after the Bulldogs snapped a six-game losing streak. “But I think we’re coming out of it.”
Butte High did not win its opener Friday night against powerful Missoula Sentinel. The Bulldogs, though, showed a spark that they haven’t had since their last win, which was Feb. 4 at home against Helene High.
That momentum carried over to Friday, and then some.
“I’m really proud of them,” Butte High coach Maury Cook said. “We set the tone last night as far as our team is concerned with how well we can play.”
Cook put 12 different players on the floor, and 11 of those scored points.
“We’re playing good as a team,” McGrath said. “We’re sharing the ball really well.”
Senior Makenna Carpenter scored 13 points to lead the way for the Bulldogs (8-12). Sophomore Brooke McGarth scored 10 off the bench, while pesky sophomore Kodie Hoagland tossed in eight.
Senior Haley Herron and junior MacKenzie Tutty each scored six, with Tutty signaling the game is over with back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter.
Butte High also got five points from Tylar Clary, four from Ashley Olson and two from Trisha Ericson, Grace McGrath, Maddie Rhodes and McCaul McCarthy.
As impressive as the balanced scoring was, however, it was defense that was the story of the win for the Bulldogs.
Hoagland chalked up five thefts to lead a Bulldog unit that went off the charts with 22 steals. Ericson and Brooke McGrath each collected three steals as Butte High forced 31 total turnovers.
That defensive effort started with the 5-foot-4 Grace McGarth on top.
“Grace really came in and gave us some great energy at the beginning,” Cook said. “She set the tone defensively, and I think all the girls followed suit with that.”
Eventually, Cook said, that defensive energy turned into offense.
Flathead led 10-4 after a bucket by Bridget Crowley.
McCarthy hit one of two free throws, and Clary found Hoagland in the corner for a 3-pointer.
After a Clary bucket and another baseline 3-pointer by Hoagland, this one off a Grace McGrath pass, put Butte High up 13-10.
The Bulldogs never trailed again. Butte High gave up just 10 total points over the second and third quarter, and Butte High took command with a 17-1 run in the second quarter.
Butte led 33-16 at the half and 46-20 after three quarters.
“The kids started to shoot the ball like we know how to,” Cook said.
Grace McGrath said Butte High also had a couple of not-so-secret weapons on its side. She said the large contingent of Butte High fans gave the team a spark. So did the bench players, who left their feet after every big play by the Bulldogs.
“We have the best bench in the state for sure,” McGrath said. “I believe in that 100 percent.”
Jenna Johnson scored 13 points to lead the Bravettes, who close the season at 4-16. Crowley scored eight points in the loss.
If Butte High can make it three solid performances, they just might be playing in the state tournament for the second straight season.
Count Grace McGrath as one who likes Butte High’s chances.
“I think for sure we’re going to get a win,” she said. “I think we’re looking good for tomorrow.”