Bulldog girls top CMR to lock up state berth

Bulldog girls top CMR to lock up state berth

GREAT FALLS — The Butte High girls’ basketball team is going to the Big Dance.

Wearing their brand-new black road uniforms, the Bulldogs knocked off Great Falls Russell 47-41 in the semifinals of the Eastern AA Divisional tournament Friday night at the CMR Fieldhouse. (Stats)

The win advances the Bulldogs to Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game against Billings West. More importantly, it sends Butte High to the Class AA State tournament for the first time since 2013.

Butte High will play in front of its hometown crowd when the state tournament opens Thursday at the Butte Civic Center.

“We’re excited,” Butte High coach Maury Cook said. “We’d like to see what we can do over there at state. It’s nice to play in front of the home crowd.”

Aspen Lovshin poured in 24 points to lead all scorers. That includes a huge 3-pointer that gave Butte High a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. Lovshin scored 17 of her points in the second half.

Fellow seniors Ally Cleverly and Brittney Tierney each scored 10 points as Butte High turned back the Rustlers, who upset Bozeman Thursday night.

Butte High led 11-7 after the first quarter and 18-13 at the half. Butte High looked to be in command with a 25-15 lead in the third quarter.

The Rustlers, who eliminated the Bulldogs from the divisional tournament last year in Butte, fought back with a 10-0 run. CMR led 29-27 before the Bulldogs tied the game at 29 heading into the fourth quarter.

“I think we could have made it a little easier on ourselves,” Cook said. “We struggled to defend the post there for a little bit. The kids made an adjustment and held them off just enough.

“They grinded it out and got the win. You’ve only got to win by 1.”

Allie Olsen scored 15 points to lead the Rustlers. She also pulled down six rebounds as CMR dominated the battle of the boards. Kiely Gunderson scored seven points for CMR, which will play Billings senior in a loser-out game at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Laruen Lindseth and Alex Madsen scored five, Marly Calliham and Breeana Johns tossed in four, and Emily Funseth scored two.

Justise Birkenbuel scored three points for Butte High. Makenna Carpenter tossed in one.

Haley Herron, McCaul McCarthy and Grace McGrath also contributed for the Bulldogs in their biggest win in six years.

The trip to state comes in Cook’s fourth year as head coach of the Bulldogs. Seniors Tierney and Cleverly played all four years, while Lovshin and Birkenbuel contributed for three.

Those players endured two 2-19 seasons before coming within an eyelash of qualifying for state last year. CMR, though, overcame a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter eliminate Butte High in a Saturday morning loser-out game at the divisional tournament last March.

That made losing a 10-point lead scary for Cook’s Bulldogs this time around.

“It was the same situation as last year,” Cook said. “But we pulled it out this time. That is a big step for our program.

“I’m really proud of those seniors,” the coach added. “I feel really good for them. They were on the years when they were on the wrong side of everything. Tonight they proved their hard work paid off.”

Billings West used a big second half to beat to beat Great Falls High 46-23 in the other semifinal. The win ran West’s record to 18-1.

Butte High (16-4) split the regular-season series with the Golden Bears. Butte High won 48-46 on a late jumper by Carpenter Jan. 19 in Butte. West won 65-42 Feb. 16 in Billings.

Cook said the Bulldogs are definitely more relaxed because they have already punched their ticket to state. However, Butte High is playing to win Saturday night.

“We’re out to win this thing,” he said. “West is a great team, but anything can happen on a given night.”

Butte High, by the way, will wear their usual standard purple uniforms in the championship game. Cook said rules prevent them from wearing new uniforms in tournament championship games.

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