By Bill Foley
The Bulldogs silenced their doubters Tuesday night.
Playing perhaps their best game of the season, the Butte High boys’ basketball team knocked off Great Falls Russell 58-51 in an Eastern AA playoff game in front of a large crowd at the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gymnasium.
The win sends the Bulldogs to Billings West for a 6 p.m. Friday game. The winner of that contest heads to the Class AA State tournament, which is March 10-12 in Bozeman.
“We felt like people doubted us,” said Butte High junior Ryson Lovshin, who five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 20 points. “We were doubted the whole time. There was stuff all over Twitter, all over the internet. It had us down, but we came out and won.”
Butte High closed the second quarter with a 15-2 run to take the lead for good in the rubber match of three games between the Bulldogs and Rustlers this season.
In the second half, the Bulldogs had just enough to hold off a CMR team that just wouldn’t go away.
Travis Williams, who banked in a 3-pointer right after CMR’s Karl Tucker II did the same early in the fourth quarter, scored seven of his eight points in the fourth quarter. Williams, who collected a handful steals and registered repeated hustle plays, hit 4 of 4 free throws in the final frame.
“Travis Williams was fantastic,” Bulldog coach Luke Powers said. “We just got a ton out of Brock (Powell). He’s really efficient.”
Powell, a junior, posted another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He scored eight points in each half.
The Bulldogs also got nine points from Evan Anderson, four from Patrick O’Herron Jr. and one from Kyle Klapan.
Freshman Kash Kelly also contributed for the Bulldogs, who mainly used seven players after losing another player to a suspension for violating team rules over the weekend.
“It was a total team effort,” Powers said. “We only played seven, and six scored. The only one who didn’t was the freshman, Kash, but he gave us really good minutes.”
Powers pointed to the play of O’Herron, the Butte Central transfer who had what was perhaps his best all-around game of the season.
“The other kid who did a great job for us — rebounded and got some huge blocks — was Patrick O’Herron,” Powers said. “He had a huge block and got us a ton of momentum back.”
Sophomore sharpshooter Sam Vining hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points to lead three Rustlers in double figures. He was the focal point of the Bulldog defense all night.
“We shaded our 2-3 to him the whole time,” Powers said.
Tucker added 13 points, while Garrison Rothwell tossed in 12 for CMR, which closes the season at 4-17.
The Bulldogs, who led 58-48 before Vining hit a three to end the game, got the chance to insert several young players in the final minute. Lathan Ricketts, Zach Archibald, Nathaniel Ferguson and Riley Riordan all saw the court.
“That was the first time we’ve had an opportunity to sub guys all year at the end of the game. The wins we’ve had have been pretty close,” Powers said. “It’s definitely their last home game of the season, and they got a little curtain call. We haven’t won a lot of games. We’ve won five this year. We’re 1-0 in postseason, that’s what matters.”
Now, the Bulldogs, the No. 6 seed in the Eastern AA, turn their attention to 15-5 Billings West, which is the No. 3 seed after posting an 8-4 conference record.
The Goldin Bears swept the regular-season series with the Bulldogs, winning 59-44 Jan 23. In Billings and 52-41 Feb. 20 in Butte.
The Bulldogs, who led at West in the third quarter in the January meeting, will hit the road feeling good.
“We can beat those guys if we come out strong and play hard,” Lovshin said. “They’re a good team, but I feel we have a good chance.”
Powers said his team has nothing to lose.
“We played Billings West tough twice. And, you know what, the pressure’s on them,” Powers said. “We don’t have anything to lose. They’re a three (seed), they’re supposed to go to state.
“We’re going go down there, give them 32 minutes of hell and see what happens.”
GREAT FALLS RUSSELL (4-17) — Sam Vining 5 0-0 14, Garrison Rothwell 3 6-8 12, Xavier Pace 1 0-0 2, Karl Tucker II 2 7-10 13, Trevor Pepin 2 0-0 4, Chris Moore 1 3-5 6, Noah Danielson 0 0-0 0, Russell Gagne 0 0-0 0, Wyatt Bleskin 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 16-23 51.
BUTTE HIGH (5-16) — Ryson Lovshin 6 3-4 20, Evan Anderson 1 6-7 9, Patrick O’Herron Jr. 2 0-2 4, Travis Williams 1 5-7 8, Brock Powell 7 2-8 16, Kash Kelly 0 0-0 0, Kyle Klapan 0 1-2 1 Riley Riordan 0 0-0 0, Lathan Ricketts 0 0-0 0, Zach Archibald 0 0-0 0, Nathaniel Ferguson 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 17-30 58.
Russell 12 7 17 15 — 51
Butte 12 15 17 14 — 58
3-point goals — Russell 7 (Vinning 4, Tucker 2, Moore), Butte 7 (Lovshin 5, Anderson 1, Williams 1). Fouls — Russell 24, Butte 15. Fouled out — Pepin, Tucker. Technicals — CMR (Administrative).