By Bill Foley
The Saturday afternoon season opener had all the makings for an upset.
Playing a little sloppy and clearly nervous, Butte High’s girls’ basketball team struggled against a Missoula Big Sky that had lost its last 37 games.
The few Butte High fans who were allowed into the Butte Civic Center were starting to get that pucker feeling.
Then, the Bulldogs turned up the heat and a nail-biter turned into a rout almost in the blink of an eye.
MacKenzie Tutty scored 13 of her game-high 21 points as the Bulldogs outscored Big Sky 24-1 in the second quarter. That run sent the Bulldogs to a 70-36 Western AA victory over the Eagles.
“We just started playing together. Our nerves weren’t there as much,” Tutty said of the sudden Bulldog turnaround. “We all started to click together, and our fast break really came together. It just really worked for us. Our speed is showing.”
Tutty, Butte High’s lone returning starter, came within one point of her career high. She scored 22 points at Helena High last Jan. 11.
The 70 points was the most for the Bulldogs since they beat Anaconda 85-82 Feb. 13, 2014 in the Mining City.
“We’re sharing the ball really well,” Tutty explained. “I think that is the best part of a successful team is being able to share the ball and distribute it to everyone and not being selfish.”
Butte High saw 11 of its 12 players score points in the win. Junior post player Ashley Olson added 13 points and seven rebounds, while senior McCaul McCarthy and sophomore Emmarie Richards each scored eight. McCarthy also pulled down 16 rebounds.
The Bulldogs also got six points from Madison Skeel, three from Madalynn Rhodes and Brooke McGrath, and two apiece from Kodie Hoagland, Laura Rosenleaf, Tylar Clary and Mya Stenson. Sophomore Payton Clary also contributed in Butte’s win.
“Everybody gave a great effort,” Bulldog coach Maury Cook said. “I’m happy with everybody. Everybody was sharing the ball; we were pushing it up the floor. Our kids just came out and flat out showed their speed today.”
Butte High’s run actually started midway through first quarter. With 4 minutes, 49 seconds left, Big Sky’s Corbyn Sandau hit a free throw to put the Bulldogs up 3-2.
“The butterflies were just flying,” Cook said.
Richards tied the game with a free throw before McCarthy gave Butte High the lead for good at 5-3 with 3:52 on the clock. The next time down court, McCarthy fed Olson for a hoop, and the Bulldogs closed the quarter with a 13-5 run for a 15-8 lead.
Tutty, who hit a 3-pointer during that stretch, scored back-to-back buckets to open the second quarter, and the rout was on. The Bulldogs scored the first 15 points of the quarter, and Butte led 39-9 at halftime.
The lead was 51-22 after three quarters, and Butte High continued to score despite resting its starters most of the fourth quarter.
Cook pointed out that his team could play much better, especially offensively. He said the Bulldogs use their own standards, which are more than the scoreboard, to measure their success. In the opener, the team showed it needs improvement, the coach said.
“Offensively, I didn’t think we executed well, partially because we were sprinting,” Cook said. “We were running and fast breaking, and sometimes it doesn’t lend to good offense.”
As far as his team’s effort, well, Cook could not have been more pleased.
“We were flying out and making steals in that zone,” he said. “I was really happy with our effort, really happy with the intensity. When our racehorses kind of see the blood in the water, there’s a track meet to see who can catch the ball first. We’re going to live off our speed and it showed today.”
A noteworthy and inspirational moment came with 23 seconds left when Stenson, a junior, sank a pair of free throws for her first varsity points. The free tosses also completed her comeback from a hip injury that sidelined her for the entire 2019-20 season.
Those shots also gave Butte High 70 points for the first time since that 2014 game against Anaconda. Butte High’s top offensive performance came in a 67-39 win at Kalispell Flathead last Jan. 17. Butte High beat Big Sky 66-40 two weeks later.
Sandau scored 13 points to pace the Eagles, who fought until the final buzzer. Freshman Audrey Hale tossed in eight points, while junior Grace Bunnell and Avari Batt each scored five. Big Sky also got three from sophomore Michenna George and two from senior Kaylee McEnaney.
The Bulldogs will look to go to 2-0 Thursday with a trip to Helena Capital. The Bruins shared the Class AA title with a 22-1 record last season.
It will certainly be a tough test, but Tutty said the more the Bulldogs play, the more their fans will see good things from them.
“We all enjoy playing together, and we all get along really well. I think that helps,” Tutty said. “Our chemistry is really good, and I think you’ll see more games like this out of us.”
MISSOULA BIG SKY (0-1) — Avari Batt 0 5-8 5, Corbyn Sandau 4 3-4 13, Audrey Hale 3 1-3 8, Olivia Fichtner 0 0-0 0, Grace Denman 1 0-0 2, Grace Bunnell 2 1-2 5, Michenna George 1 0-0 3, Keara Burgess 0 0-0 0, Kylie Johnson 0 0-0 0, Kaylee McEnaney 1 0-0 2, Quincy Morrison 0 0-0 0, Dakota Belarde 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 10-18 36.
BUTTE HIGH (1-0) — MacKenzie Tutty 9 0-1 21, Kodie Hoagland 0 2-2 2, Tylar Clary 0 2-2 2, McCaul McCarthy 4 0-3 8, Ashley Olson 4 5-8 13, Madalynn Rhodes 1 1-2 3, Madison Skeel 3 0-0 6, Brooke McGrath 1 0-0 3, Emmarie Richards 3 1-2 8, Laura Rosenleaf 1 0-0 2, Mya Stenson 0 2-2 2, Payton Clary 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 13-22 70.
Big Sky 8 1 13 14 — 36
Butte 15 24 12 19 — 70
3-point goals — Butte 4 Sandau 2, George, Hale), Butte 5 (Tutty 3, McGrath, Richards). Fouls — Big Sky 20, Butte 16. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.