Billy Kelly free throw seals victory
GREAT FALLS — Butte High’s boys’ basketball team did something it had not done in 14 years Thursday.
And the Bulldogs gave their fans a major scare along the way.
Billy “The Kid” Kelly hit a free throw with 2 seconds left, and the Bulldogs beat Billings Senior 63-62 in a loser-out game at the Class AA State tournament at the Four Seasons Arena. (Stats)
The victory sends the Bulldogs to a 1 p.m. loser-out game against tHelena Capital, which fell 61-48 to Great Falls High in the semifinals. The winner of that game goes to Saturday’s third-place game. (Bracket)
The win was Butte High’s first at State since the Bulldogs beat Missoula Big Sky 49-25 in a semifinal game March 9, 2007 in Billings.
“It’s awesome for the seniors and awesome for the under classman who are coming back next year,” Butte High coach Matt Luedke said. “They get a taste of it and want to do it again.”
That win that looked in the bag just seconds earlier, turned into a nail-biter in the blink of an eye as the Bulldogs saw a six-point lead completely disappear.
After Kelly hit one of two free throws to make it a 62-56 game, Senior post player Cactus Runsabove sank a long 3-piotner. The Broncs forced a quick turnover, and Junior Bergen buried another long trey with 3.4 seconds left to tie the game at 62.
Going for another steal, Bergen fouled Kelly on the inbound pass, sending the Bulldog senior all the way to the other end of the court to shoot two free throws. The clock showed exactly 2 seconds left, and the Broncs were out of time outs.
“He was going hard,” Luedtke said of Bergen. “He was trying to get a steal.”
Kelly hit the first free throw. With his teammates back at half court, he missed the second on purpose. The Broncs got off a long 3-pointer, but it wasn’t close.
The Bulldogs can point to a strong third quarter for the win in a game that saw seven lead chances and six ties.
Senior led by seven points much of the second quarter before taking a 33-28 lead into halftime.
The Bulldogs opened the second half with an 11-3 run, and Butte High outscored the Broncs 18-9 in the third frame to take a 46-42 lead into the fourth.
Butte’s 6-foot-8 senior Jake Olson was the key to the third quarter run. Getting the ball to Olson set up the rest of the Bulldog attack.
“Believe it or not, we’re not as stupid as people think we are,” Luedtke said. “The game plan is to get Jake the ball. Good things happen when he gets the ball. He’s the best big man in the tournament. He does a really good job of reading defenses. He passes out of double teams as well as anybody.”
Butte High led by as many as eight points at 52-44, but the Broncs fought to make sure that the game went down to the wire.
Kelly finished with 20 points to lead three Bulldogs in double figures scoring. Kelly also dished out four assists in the win.
Olson finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds and two assists, while fellow senior Cael Stenson contributed with 10 points, five boards and three assists.
Kenley Leary had some big buckets for the Bulldogs, scoring eight points. Blake Drakos and Cameron Gurnsey each scored four, Zach Merrifield sank a three, and Jace Stenson scored two.
Mike O’Dell and Kooper Klobucar also contributed for the Bulldogs.
Bergen hit four 3-pointers and scored 21 points to lead the Broncs, who close the season at 9-8. Runsabove scored 15, and Jacksen Burckley got off to a fast start and finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Chazz Haws poured in eight points and dropped seven dimes in the loss.
Butte High will take a 9-8 record into Friday, meaning the Bulldogs have secured their first non-losing record since the 2008 team went 14-7.
“I’m super happy for the seniors,” Luedtke said. “I’m super, super excited, and the boys are excited.”