Bulldogs go to Billings for State AA basketball

The “Butte, Butte, Butte” chant is heading back to the Billings Metra.

Butte High’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams will be in the Magic City for the Class AA State basketball tournaments, which begin Thursday.

First up is Butte High’s girls, who take on Billings Skyview at 5 p.m. The Bulldog boys battle Billings Senior at 8. (Updating boys’ bracket; Updating girls’ bracket)

Both Butte High teams enter as the No. 4 seed from the Western AA and take on the champion of the Eastern AA Divisional tournament.

On paper, it might look like Butte High’s team is the one that does not belong. The Bulldogs are 6-16 on the season. That is the only losing record in either tournament.

The Bulldogs, though, head to State playing their best basketball of the season. While they have not completely put everything together, Butte High has shown flashes of brilliance that should scare any team in the field.

In particular, Butte High senior guard Kenley Leary has been on fire.

Over the past 10 games, Leary has averaged 18.4 points. He has led the Bulldogs in scoring in eight of those 10 games.

The feisty Leary, who has been knocking down some long, pull-up 3-pointers, stepped up his moxie for the post season. He scored 70 points in Butte High’s four games at the Western AA Divisional tournament in Helena.

In elimination games against Missoula Sentinel and Helena High, Leary scored a total of 46 points. That included a 27-point performance against Sentinel. He also hit the game-winning free throw to beat Helena High.

The 6-foot-6 Kooper Klobucar, Butte High’s only other senior, is also playing his best ball. Klobucar tossed in 47 points and grabbed 31 rebounds in Butte High’s four divisional games.

Juniors Jace Stenson and Cameron Gurnsey also reached double figures scoring in games over the weekend. Stenson scored 44 on the tournament, and Gurnsey tossed in 32.

Junior Jonas Sherman rounded out the lineup for the Bulldogs in Helena, while sophomore Bo Demarais and freshman Tocher Lee were the first off the bench.

Freshman Dylan “Bobby” Bache seemed to break out in the tournament, and sophomore Rueso Batterman played key minutes.

Also making the trip for the Bulldogs will be junior Alex Watson, sophomore Garret Sharp and freshmen Colton Shea, Trey McCarthy and Spencer Callaghan.

Butte High, which is looking for its first title since 1984, is making its third straight trip to State under head coach Matt Luedke. That is the Bulldogs’ longest run at state since John Thatcher led Butte High to State four straight years from 2004 through 2007.

Senior enters the tournament at 13-8 after winning the Eastern AA Divisional in Belgrade. They got a huge assist from host Belgrade, which upset top-seeded Bozeman in the first round.

The Butte-Senior winner plays Bozeman (20-2) or Missoula Big Sky (11-10) at 8 p.m. Friday. The Hawks and Eagles, who made an inspired run at the Western AA Divisional, play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The losers battle at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

The top half of the bracket pits Billings Skyview (13-8) against Kalispell Glacier (12-10) and Helena Capital (19-2) against Gallatin (11-11). In their second season, the Raptors are making their first trip to State.

On the girls’ side, the Bulldogs face a tremendous test in their opener. Skyview enters the tournament at 19-2. The Falcons have won 13 straight, including a 49-33 beating of Billings West in the divisional championship game.

Heading to Billings for first-year head coach Bryan Arntson’s Bulldogs will be seniors Kodie Hoagland, Tylar Clary, Brooke McGrath, Ashley Olson and Pieper Joseph; juniors Payton Clary, Laura Rosenleaf, Emmarie Richards, Rian Ferriter and Brooke Groesbeck; and freshman Brityn Stewart.

Alternates are freshman Elli Quist and juniors Maddi Jonart and Olivia Spear.

Hoagland, Rosenleaf and McGrath led the Bulldogs at divisionals. Hoagland scored a team-best 36 points in the four games, while Rosenleaf and McGrath each scored 25. Rosenleaf also pulled down 25 rebounds in the tournament.

Tylar Clary and Olson round out the starting lineup for the Bulldogs. Richards, though, started the majority of the games during the season and came off the bench to contribute during divisionals.

Payton Clary has also been one of the first off the bench, and Joseph has played key minutes for the Bulldogs.

Stewart busted onto the scene at divisionals. She scored all of her seven points in the second quarter as Butte High overcame a seven-point deficit to beat Helena High and book a trip to State.

Kalispell Flathead (16-5) and Billings Senior (13-9) join the Bulldogs and Falcons on the bottom of the bracket. The Bravettes and Broncs play at 3:30 p.m. The winners meet at 5 p.m. Friday, and the losers battle at 10:30 a.m.

The top half of the bracket sees Billings West (19-2) take on Missoula Sentinel (11-11) and Missoula Hellgate (20-1) face Great Falls Russell (11-11).