Bulldogs best Sentinel on accidental set

Some good sets have come Butte High hitters’ ways this young volleyball season. Junior Baylee Thatcher has hanged several in the air herself as a combination setter/hitter for the Bulldogs.

The set a Missoula Sentinel player floated to her at the end of Tuesday night’s match in Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym, however, was a thing of beauty.

Where it wound up, rolling just inside the Spartan end line, capped a 25-22, 15-25, 25-21, 25-23 non-conference Class AA victory for Butte High. It was the Bulldogs’ first win of the season after beginning it with a pair of losses.

The fourth-set score was 23-all and the gym filled to the brim with deafening crowd noise when Thatcher pushed a return over a Sentinel alignment that saw almost all of the Spartans on the floor following their own well-played scoop of a dig and save.

“I was panicked,“ Thatcher said about the ball ballooning in front of her with Spartans strewn in the opposite forecourt. “I was just hoping it would go in and I wouldn’t be bashing it into the net.“

The point meant game and match point for the Bulldogs.

The next play, following a Sammy McGree Butte serve, presented Thatcher with a similar opportunity. The Spartans tried to return and the ball was batted across the net. Suddenly, with Sentinel players, all six, packed almost tightly against the net, the ball again hovered in front of Thatcher.

“Then, that set, that was lucky,“ she said after poaching the floater that finished off the win. “I should have tried to set it up instead.“

Assistant coach Brianna Barsness disagreed and said Thatcher did the right thing, scoring the point and securing the win.

Head coach Dale Burgman, too, was complimentary of the player’s effort.

“Say something about Baylee Thatcher and give her credit,“ he said before revealing that Thatcher was playing on an ankle rolled at the beginning of the match and causing her much pain throughout the contest. “She might hit one out of bounds or in the net, but she competes and will hit the big shot, too. She was hurt, but no way did she want to come out. Baylee plays to win. All of our girls do.”

Olivia Roberts had served Sentinel into the lead and it was a four-point edge, 20-16, that brought on the later stages of the match. Carlie Haeffner fired an ace serve for Butte High to begin a run that tied the score at 20-all on a McGree kill.

The Spartans went back to the front, 22-20, on kills by Haley Druyvestein and Roberts before the Bulldogs tied on a block by Brianna O’Mara and a Thatcher kill. Points were traded on errors before Thatcher’s last two points that ended the match.

“That was fun,” Burgman said, with some joking in the tone, after the match. “God love ‘em, they never quit. It wasn’t exactly what you would call pretty, but we also really did some nice things.”

The coach pointed to other key individual efforts. He noted McGree’s play at the net that helped take away Sentinel strengths. The Spartans proved to be a strong hitting and serving squad. Burgman also lauded O’Mara for coming back from a tough series early in the match to post big blocks and solid kill that contributed greatly to the Bulldog rally. He talked about Carlie Haeffner being stifled some at the net by Sentinel’s tall and talented front line, but still serving fiercely and making a difference.

“We were resilient tonight,” Burgman said. “The girls played hard. I thought we were better Saturday against (Billings) West than we were against (Billings) Skyview the day before. And tonight, I thought we were a lot better than we were against West.

“We’re trying to play a more uptempo offense and doing some things differently from what we did in the past, not that standard 50-30 stuff. Defensively, the girls are tough. Nothing hit’s the floor, that’s the goal and how we play.”

Sentinel was led by the 6-foot-1 Druyvestein with 14 kills and four blocks Roberts with 14 kills and 16 digs, Madison McCarthy with 38 assists and Jami Flink with seven of the Spartans’ 15 ace serves. Butte High countered with four aces and 13 digs by Jessie Buckley, McKaul Ori with 15 assists, McGree with 11 kills and senior libero Hattie Thatcher with 11 digs. O’Mara had three blocks.

Sentinel ended the first game after Butte High had taken the lead for good at 4-3 when a Spartan serve sailed long. The Bulldogs steadily built on the lead behind serving runs by Jessie Buckely and Carlie Haeffner and led 16-6 before Sentinel rallied back. The Spartans cut the deficit to 17-12 on a Flink serving run and two Roberts kills. The Bulldogs repelled the surge and a O’Mara kill scored game point at 24-21 before Sentinel errors closed out the set..

The Spartans carried the momentum in the second game, however, as they parlayed a McCarthy serving run into a 13-9 lead and then held off the Bulldogs. Sentinel tallied six aces in the set, including three in a row by Flink that took the Spartans to 23-14. An in-the-net call against Butte High caused game point and, after an O’Mara kill , a Butte High misconnection on set-and-hit finished the game.

Butte High bounced back for a third-game win, taking the lead when Haeffner went on a four-point serving run to end the game. Two Sentinel hits tangled in the net to snap a 21-all tie and give the Bulldogs a two-point edge. O’Mara decked another kill for game point and then a Spartan pass floated away from the hit and landed out of bounds for the final point of the set.

Butte High will play in the Great Falls Invitational tournament on Friday and Saturday.

Butte High def. Missoula Sentinel 25-22, 15-25, 25-21, 25-23
Kills — Sentinel 43 (Hayley Druyvestein 14, Olivia Roberts 14), Butte 29 (Sammy McGree 11, Baylee Thatcher 8, Carlie Haeffner 5, Brianna O’Mara 5). Assists — Sentinel 40 (Madison McCarthy 38), Butte 23 (McKaul Ori 15, B. Thatcher 5, Hattie Thatcher 1, O’Mara 1, Jessie Buckley 1). Aces — Sentinel 15 (Jami Flink 7), Butte 9 (Buckley 4, Haeffner 3, McGree 1, Ori 1). Digs — Sentinel 49 (Roberts 16, Druyvestein  5), Butte 37 (Buckley 13, H. Thatcher 11, McGree 7, B. Thatcher 3, Ori 3). Blocks — Sentinel 8 (Druyvestein 4, Krista Hutton 4), Butte 7 (O’Mara 3, Haeffner 2, Buckley 1, Rachel Anderson 1).