By Bruce Sayler
In, perhaps, mostly a matter of bowed necks, strong wills and hard-beating hearts, the Butte High boys pulled out a basketball win.
The Bulldogs wiped out a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and began the 2023 portion of their schedule with a 60-55 Western AA Conference win over Glacier High of Kalispell Friday evening in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym at Butte High School. The win also marked the Butte High conference opener.
“Absolutely, it was toughness,” Matt Luedtke, head coach of the Bulldogs said. “Butte is the toughest town in the state and that’s how we want to play. We had a great first half and then they went on a run against us in the second half. We got down 10 points. My old high school coach always said basketball is a game of runs and we went on ours, and pulled it out down the stretch.”
Butte High enjoyed a 30-22 halftime lead playing before a packed house, then saw the Wolfpack blow past for a 40-37 edge by the end of the third quarter. Adam Nikunen’s third 3-point basket of the third quarter put Glacier ahead 36-35 with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the period. Travys Agan and Tyler McDonald downed two buckets in the last 50 seconds of the frame after sizzling freshman Hudson Luedtke, son of the coach, scored on a short drive at 2:02. The teams entered the last period with Glacier ahead 42-37.
“I think if we were worried, we wouldn’t have won that game,” Bulldog senior Cameron Gurnsey said. “It was about trusting. Trusting what the coach tells us helped us win that game.”
With Hudson Luedtke scoring 14 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, Butte High rallied. The Wolfpack had increased their lead to 49-39 as 6-7 standout Noah Dowler stepped outside for a 3-pointer to cap a 7-2 surge that widened the gap. Luedtke tallied the next eight points of the game on a short jump shot, two free throws, a 10-foot fallaway and two more foul shots.
Cohen Kastelitz scored for Glacier to interrupt the run, but failed to blunt the Bulldogs. Luedtke scored again and then Gurnsey canned a 3-point shot as Butte High grabbed a 52-51 edge with 3:17 on the clock. Tocher Lee added a charity toss for the Bulldogs and then Luedtke flipped in a basket on a short drive.
Butte High then put the win away on freebies as Jace Stenson, Gurnsey and Luedtke went 5-for-6 from the free throw line the last 30 seconds of the game.
“We played a lot of guys tonight and that is a good problem to have (a deep enough roster to force spreading of playing time),” coach Luedtke said. “We have a lot of guys back from a super young team of last year.”
He credited seniors Stenson and Gurnsey with providing the leadership on-court.
“I’m really proud of Jace and Cam,” the coach said. “This was the best effort I’ve seen from them (pulling out the win).”
Gurnsey said holding a formidable Glacier lineup to 55 points was most important in the Butte High win.
“Defense wins championships,” he said. “We attacked them, offensively, keeping their defense on their toes. But, our defense was good.”
It was relentless. The lineup rotations kept if fresh, too. Many of the Butte High players were teammates on the football team, as well, and Gurnsey said the benefits were evident in this win.
“The chemistry from us playing both sports, I think, is what helped the team win,” he said.
It was a competitive game all the way through. Casey Merrifield drilled a 3-pointer for Butte High to begin the night and Stenson followed with a spin move to the basket for an early 5-0 lead. However, the Wolfpack jumped into the action and held an 11-10 lead after a quarter as Dowler was strong on the inside.
Gurnsey netted a 3-pointer with 3:16 left in the first half to send the Bulldogs back into the lead, 20-18. The shot also launched a 9-0 run with Gurnsey scoring all but two of the points in the surge. The eruption developed into Butte High’s 30-22 halftime lead.
Gurnsey finished with 18 points to back Luedtke in the scoring. Stenson finished with nine points, Merrifield with eight and Lee scored one. Jonas Sherman, Bo Demarais, Kale McDonald and Cayde Stajcar also played. Gurnsey and Luedtke shared the team rebound lead with six boards each.
Dowler led Glacier with 13 points and nine rebounds. Tyler McDonald also had nine rebounds to go with 11 points. Glacier gained a 44-27 advantage on the boards. Nikunen scored 11 points, too, giving the Wolfpack three players scoring in double digits.
Butte High scored 18 points from the foul line while Glacier funneled in two shots from the stripe.
Butte High squared its season record at 2-2 with the win and stands 1-0 in league play. The Bulldogs will be home on Saturday for a 4 p.m. game against Kalispell Flathead in the Richardson gym. Glacier is 3-2 and 0-1.
KALISPELL GLACIER (3-2, 0-1) – Cohen Kastelitz 2-7 0-0 4, Tyler McDonald 5-9 1-3 11, Adam Nikunen 4-8 0-0 11, Ty Olsen 4-11 1-2 9, Noah Dowler 6-11 0-3 13, Travys Agan 1-2 0-0 2, Xavier Stout 1-2 0-0 3, Carson Gulick 0-1 0-0 0, Kaidrian Buls 1-3 0-0 2, Wyatt Cox 0-0 0-0 0, Jeff Lillard 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Hausmann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 2-8 55.
BUTTE HIGH (2-2, 1-0) – Jace Stenson 3-12 2-2 121, Cameron Gurnsey 5-6 6-9 18, Jonas Sherman 0-2 0-0 0, Casey Merrifield 3-7 0-0 8, Hudson Luedtke 8-16 8-10 24, Tocher Lee 0-0 1-4 1, Bo Demarais 0-2 0-0 0, Kale McDonald 0-1 0-2 0, Cayde Stajcar 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 18-28 60.
Glacier 11 11 20 13 – 55
Butte High 10 20 7 23 – 60
3-point goals – Glacier 5-15 (Kastelitz 0-1, T. McDonald 0-2, Nikunen 3-5, Olsen 0-2, Dowler 1-1, Stout 1-1, Buls 0-3), Butte High 4-16 (Stenson 0-5, Gurnsey 2-2, Merrifield 2-6, Luedtke 0-2, K. McDonald 0-1). Fouled out – T. McDonald, Olsen. Total fouls – Glacier 26, Butte High 15. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Glacier 44 (T. McDonald 9, Dowler 9), Butte High 27 (Gurnsey 6, Luedtke 6). Blocks – none. Assists – Glacier 6 (Olsen 2, Nikunen 2), Butte High 3 (Stajcar 1, Gurnsey 1, Stenson 1). Steals – Glacier 6 (Olsen 2), Butte High 12 (Gurnsey 4, Stenson 3, Luedtke 2, Merrifield 2). Turnovers – Glacier 22, Butte High 10.