By Bill Foley
The Butte High Bulldogs just might be on to something.
Butte High’s boys’ basketball team opened the season with 4-9 record while playing man-to-man defense. The Bulldogs are now 2-0 when playing primarily a 2-3 zone.
That new Bulldog defense stifled Kalispell Glacier Saturday, and the Bulldogs completed the perfect weekend with a 56-34 Western AA victory Saturday afternoon at the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gymnasium.
The victory came as the Bulldogs celebrated Senior Day, honoring Tommy Mellott, Andrew Booth, Ryan Burt, Dillon Ferry and their parents.
“It’s worked out really well for us, and we’re going to keep getting better,” Mellott said of Butte High’s new defensive approach. “We’ve been playing man all year. That zone we put in has a lot of man principals.”
Butte High head coach Matt Luedtke said he got some help implementing the zone from former Bulldog coach John Thatcher, who is now the color commentary man for KBOW’s radio coverage of the Bulldogs.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” Luedtke said. “We’re really, really fortunate to have him as an asset to the coaching staff. Me and my coaching staff, we’re just trying to learn from him.”
The zone defense has helped the Bulldogs get more from their entire lineup. On Saturday, they again got what Luedtke called a “team win.”
Butte High is able to go with a bigger lineup — with seniors Ryan Burt and Kaven “The Dragon” Noctor coming off the bench — for longer stretches in the zone. That defense is also helping the Bulldogs play better offense.
“What I think is happening is we don’t have to work so hard defensively playing man to man,” Luedke said. “We were just trying to keep up.”
Butte High, which is still missing junior guard Billy Kelly, wasn’t getting the most out of its roster with the man approach, Luedtke said.
“It just wasn’t our strength,” Luedtke said. “Obviously with the 2-3, we can have Jake in there with Burt and Kaven Noctor, The Dragon. When we go big with (Cael) Stenson, Kaven, Burt and Jake (Olson), that’s about as big as anybody in the state.”
That Bulldog lineup wore down the Wolfpack, which led 13-12 after the first quarter.
Olson, Butte High’s 6-foot-8 junior, scored off an inbound pass from Mellott to start a 10-2 second quarter run to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Butte led 25-22 at halftime, and the Bulldogs turned out the lights on the Wolfpack in the second half.
Mellott hit a 3-pointer with just over 6 minutes left in the third quarter to start a 17-3 Butte High run that put the game away. Mellott’s trey started a stretch of five straight Butte High possessions where the team either hit a 3-pointer or turned a three-point play.
After Mellott’s three, Stenson turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play, and Blake Drakos, Mikey O’Dell and Kenley Leary all followed with threes.
Butte High led 46-31 after three quarters, and the Bulldogs nearly pitched a shutout in the fourth.
A baseline 3-pointer Jaxson Olson with 22 seconds left in the game accounted for Glacier’s only points of the final frame. Butte High outscored Glacier 31-12 in the second half.
“Everybody is contributing,” Luedtke said. “It is so fun when every single person you put in you know is going to step up and do something really great. That’s what we’ve had the last two days. I hope that we can ride that momentum.”
Mellott led Butte High with 11 points. Drakos and Stenson each scored nine, while Burt and Olson scored eight.
Burt had easily his best back-to-back games, scoring 20 points on the weekend.
“Ryan Burt has been amazing,” Mellott said. “It is incredible to watch what he was able to do. He’s really skilled. He’s got great footwork, but he hasn’t been able to show what he could do yet. Until now.”
Noctor joined O’Dell and Leary with three points, and Booth scored two.
Ferry also made an appearance late in the game after the crowd chanted, “We want Dillon.”
Weston Price scored 10 points to lead Glacier, which fell to 7-8 overall and 4-7 in league play. Drew Engellant and Anthony Heath each scored seven.
Luedtke pointed out that the Wolfpack is missing K.J. Johnson, who wore a walking boot while he sat on the bench.
“He really shoots it well, but they’ve got other guys who can shoot,” Luedtke said. “We really covered them and frustrated them.”
Butte High, which beat Kalispell Flathead Friday night, grabbed two victories in a stretch of about 20 hours.
While that turnaround was short, Mellott said it was a good test for the Bulldogs.
“I’m really proud of the guys because divisionals is going to be the same situation,” the future Montana State University quarterback said. “We’ve got one game, then we’ve got to come right back the next day. It was good for developing our team for that.”
“If we want to make it to state, we’ve got to put two games together at divisionals.”
The Bulldogs improved to 6-10 overall and 5-7 in the Western AA.
Mellott said the Bulldogs have stayed optimistic through tough stretches, and now that is paying off.
“We’ve been talking a lot with all of our guys, just keeping positive,” Mellott said. “Our season has been up and down, but we’ve kept a positive attitude. We’ve got everyone involved, telling everyone how much we care about them and how we think they can contribute to our team.”
Luedtke said that attitude is impressive.
“It’s been a tough road. For those kids to have such a great attitude and just to come out keep fighting, that really says a lot about their character and a lot about our coaching staff,” Luedtke said. “Our assistants have done an awesome job.”
The Bulldogs will play at Missoula Hellgate next Saturday before closing the regular season the following Saturday at Missoula Sentinel.
The Western AA Divisional tournament is March 5-7 in Missoula.
KALISPELL GLACIER (7-8, 4-7) — Keifer Spohnhauer 1 0-0 2, Weston Price 5 0-0 10, Drew Engellant 3 1-3 7, Anthony Heath 3 0-0 7, Michael Schwarz 1 0-0 3, Jaxson Olsen 1 0-0 3, J.T. Allen 1 0-0 2, Dillon Riffle 0 0-0 0, Luke Bilau 0 0-0 0, Jonah Pate 0 0-0 0, Ethan Diede 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 1-3 34.
BUTTE HIGH (6-10, 5-7) —Blake Drakos 3 1-1 9, Tommy Mellott 5 0-0 11, Cael Stenson 4 1-1 9, Andrew Booth 0 2-2 2, Jake Olson 4 0-0 8, Kenley Leary 1 0-0 3, Mikey O’Dell 1 0-0 3, Ryan Burt 4 0-0 8, Kaven Noctor 1 1-2 3, Dillon Ferry 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 5-6 56.
Glacier 13 9 9 3 — 34
Butte 12 13 21 10 — 56
3-point goals — Glacier 3 (Olsen, Heath, Schwarz), Butte 5 (Drakos 3, Mellott, Leary, O’Dell). Fouls — Glacier 9, Butte 9. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.