By Bruce Sayler
Confidence was planted, cultivated and it bloomed for the Butte High girls’ basketball team Thursday night.
The Bulldogs climbed out of a 14-point hole to upend crosstown rival Butte Central 57-51 at the Butte Civic Center in the rivals’ city championship game. The Butte High win was its first against the Maroons after three straight losses in the annual series.
The night began with a moment of silence and tribute to longtime Butte sports official Jim Younkin, whose death from cancer was reported Thursday. Butte Sports Hall of Fame athlete and current sports official wrote the tribute ready by P.A. announcer Tom O’Neill. Butte Central senior athlete Megan Michelotti then sang the National Anthem with colors presented by cheerleaders from both schools.
Good, hard play between rivals followed.
Sophomore forward Haley Herron scored 23 points and hauled down 11 rebounds to lead Class AA Butte High. She notched 19 of her points after halftime, 12 in the fourth quarter, including netting free throws for the last four points of the game.
“The second half, we came out to play,” Maury Cook, head coach of the Bulldogs, said. “I can’t say enough about Kira (Mortensen) and Haley had a helluva game tonight.
“We still have so many things we’re doing wrong, but that was a big win for us tonight. That Butte Central team is so fundamentally strong — it was such a good win for us.”
The score was 29-16 at halftime, so the looming Butte High victory seemed unlikely at the time.
Maroon star and recent Rocky Mountain College signee Kloie Thatcher scored 13 points and dished four assists to lead her team ahead, and finished with 21 points and five dishes for the game. She knocked down five 3-pointers.
With Thatcher quarterbacking, Class A Butte Central took a 15-6 first-quarter lead and then widened the margin to the 13-point halftime difference. The Butte High comeback began immediately after intermission.
The Bulldogs outscored the Maroons 9-3 in the first two minutes of the second half with Ally Cleverly’s first 3-point basket the key shot. Mortensen’s basket-and-one and Cleverly’s second 3-pointer capped an 8-2 Butte High run that narrowed the BC lead to 37-35 through three periods.
Seniors Thatcher and Olivia Bolton connected on shots to help Butte Central ward Butte High off in the early going of the last frame. However, Justise Birkenbuel began a 10-0 Bulldog run that gave Butte High its first lead of the game.
The Maroons had gone back out to a 48-40 advantage on baskets by Megan Michelotti and Thatcher.
Birkenbuel’s steal for basket cut the difference to 48-42 and preceded a pair of Herron 3-pointers. The latter Herron trey knotted the score at 48-all. Tierney broke it with her second steal-and-layup play.
Thatcher then buried a 25-foot 3-pointer as BC took its last lead, 51-50, with 43 seconds left.
The 6-1 Mortensen then drew another foul while dropping in a rebound basket. She caged the free throw and Butte High had its lead for good, 53-51, with 23 seconds to play. However, Butte Central challenged.
Thatcher was fouled by Birkenbuel, but could not get the front end of the one-and-one opportunity to drop through the cylinder. Herron snared the rebound and was fouled by Kailee Murphy. Herron sank both ends of the one-and-one The Bulldogs were lethal from the foul line, making eight of nine attempts.
The Maroons trailed by four points with 18 seconds to play. A try by Bolton missed and Herron grabbed the rebound again. Also, again, she went to the foul line as Michelotti fouled out of the contest.
Herron converted both charity tosses with 10 seconds left and the win was in Butte High’s bag.
“A lot of different kids got some big plays,” Cook said. “Haley hit some huge 3s, and Ally and Aspen (Lovshin) controlled the game a little big for us, and had good night.”
The coach was complimentary of Thatcher.
“I thought we did a good job on Kloie,” he said. “She hit some really deep 3s, but, how do you defend that?”
It was a game in which the young Butte High club was able to channel its spirit and hustle into a win.
“For us to come back like that is a huge win for Butte High,” Cook said. “Haley is a talented kid. We’ve been waiting for that from her. She’s just young.
“They’re emotional kids and they’re great to watch. We went 7-for-12 from 3-point range and anytime we shoot the ball like that, we will be pretty good. Defensively, we really came to play tonight.”
Mortensen and Cleverly finished with nine points each for the senior-less Bulldogs. Tierney had seven, Birkenbuel five and Lovshin four. The 4-3 Bulldogs beat Butte Central on the boards by a 29-19 margin as Birkenbuel pulled down seven rebounds and Mortensen five in support of Herron’s efforts.
The loss put Butte Central at 6-3 for the season. Michelotti finished with 13 points and Bolton with nine to back Thatcher. Murphy and Tricia Joyce scored three points each, and Cassidy Strizic tallied two. Emma Keeley and Allyson Mueller also played. Michelotti collected eight rebounds.
Butte High now leads the series by a 34-18 count.
The Bulldogs’ next home game is set for January 19 at home against Billings West in Eastern AA Conference play. The Maroons will play at Corvallis on Saturday in a Southwestern A Conference game.
BUTTE HIGH (4-3) — Aspen Lovshin 2-7 0-0 4, Kira Mortensen 3-5 3-3 9, Ally Cleverly 3-3 0-0 9, Haley Herron 8-15 5-6 23, Brittney Tierney 3-5 0-0 7, Justise Birkenbuel 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 21-40 8-9 57.
BUTTE CENTRAL (6-3) — Kloie Thatcher 7-12 2-5 21, Olivia Bolton 4-6 0-0 9, Megan Michelotti 3-8 7-9 13, Kailee Murphy 1-3 1-2 3, Tricia Joyce 1-3 0-0 3, Cassidy Strizic 1-4 0-2 2, Emma Keeley 0-0 0-0 0, Allyson Mueller 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-36 10-18 51.
Butte High 6 10 19 22 — 57
Butte Central 15 14 8 14 — 51
3-point goals — Butte High 7-12 (Lovshin 0-2, Cleverly 3-3, Herron 2-3, Tierney 1-2, Birkenbuel 1-2), Butte Central 7-13 (Thatcher 5-8, Bolton 1-2, Joyce 1-3). Fouled out — Michelotti. Total fouls — Butte High 12, Butte Central 12. Technical — Lovshin. Rebounds — Butte High 29 (Herron 11, Birkenbuel 7), Butte High 19 (Michelotti 8). Blocks — Butte High 2 (Mortensen 2), Butte Central 1 (Bolton). Assists — Butte Central 10 (Lovshin 3), Butte Central 7 (Thatcher 5). Steals — Butte High 10 (Birkenbuel 3, Tierney 2, Lovshin 2, Cleverly 2), Butte Central 6 (Bolton 2, Joyce 2). Turnovers — Butte High 20, Butte Central 15.