By Bill Foley
Butte High’s boys’ basketball team will not enter this week’s Class AA State tournament as one of the favorites.
At 8-7, the Bulldogs will have the seventh best record of the eight teams who will compete at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. Butte High opens against 12-3 Billings Skyview at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, kbow550.net, or on the KBOW app)
The Bulldogs, though, are going to the Electric City with momentum on their side. They also go to Great Falls knowing that they can beat anybody. (Bracket)
“If we can get past the jitters, I don’t think anybody is going to want to play us,” Bulldog second-year coach Matt Luedtke said.
The tournament is being run in conjunction with the Class AA State girls’ tournament. (Bracket)
Over seven of their last eight quarters, not many teams have played as good as the Bulldogs. Butte High went wire to wire to beat previously unbeaten Missoula Sentinel 73-64 in the regular-season finale.
Then, after a slow first quarter that helped the Bulldogs fall into a 12-point hole, Butte High turned up the head and rolled Kalispell Flathead for a 65-55 playoff victory Thursday at the Richardson Gym.
“That was the expectation coming in,” Luedtke said. “It was like, ‘Guys, we can beat anybody.’ I don’t know if a couple of the other teams have the players to beat anybody. If we play the way we did for three quarters against Flathead and four quarters against Sentinel, I think we could be playing on Saturday night.”
The Falcons, the No. 2 seed from the Eastern AA, enter the tournament as winners of eight of their last nine games. Their only losses are to 14-1 Great Falls High, which beat Skyview twice, and 11-4 Bozeman.
The game is a rematch of last year’s first-round game that saw Skyview overcome a second half Butte High lead for a 53-41 win. Skyview then beat Great Falls High to claim a share of the Class AA State title.
Peyton Carle and Payton Sanders each scored nine points to lead the Falcons in that win. Julius Mims and Camron Ketchum each scored eight. Ketchum, now a senior, and Sanders, a junior, are back for Skyview, which has three players averaging in double figures.
The 6-foot-3 Ketchum averaged 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in the regular season. Then he scored 17 to lead the Falcons in a 64-35 playoff win over Belgrade.
Ky Kuba, also a 6-3 senior, averages 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, and the 5-10 Sanders scores 11.4 points.
This time around, Luedtke is hoping his team, which is the No. 3 seed from the Western AA, is playing its best at the right time following a season of ups and downs. The season included quarantines and Butte High’s first three-tame winning streak in nine years.
It also included a three-game losing streak that was snapped with the win over Sentinel.
“We struggled at times during the season, but obviously we’re good enough to beat Sentinel,” Luedtke said. “We’re the only team to do it.”
Jake Olson, a 6-8 senior and future Montana Grizzly tight end, averaged 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the regular season. Then he poured in 22 points to lead the Bulldogs in the playoff win.
Senior Billy “The Kid” Kelly added 11.7 points and 3.2 assists per game, while classmate Blake Drakos scored 8.1 points per game. Senior Cael Stenson scored 6.8 points on the regular season. Stenson, who had his best game against Sentinel also averaged 2.3 assists per game.
Senior Zach Merrifield, juniors Kenley Leary, Mikey O’Dell and Kooper “Jackie Moon” Klobucar and sophomores Cameron Gurnsey, Jace Stenson and Jonas Sherman have contributed for the Bulldogs. Sophomores Kale McDonald and Casey Merrifield have also saw limited varsity time.
The winner of the Butte High-Skyview game will play Missoula Sentinel (14-1) or Billings Senior (9-6). The Spartans and Broncs play at 7:30 on Wednesday.
The loser heads to a 3:30 p.m. loser-out game on Thursday.
Helena Capital (9-6) and Bozeman (11-4) open the boys’ tournament at 9 a.m. Great Falls High (14-1) takes on Kalispell Glacier (7-8) at 11 a.m.
For complete stats of all Class AA teams, go to mtsportsmemories.com.