By Bill Foley
If the Butte High boys’ basketball team goes on to do great things this season, the Bulldogs will likely point back to Tuesday night as when it all began.
The Bulldogs played their best game of the season, snapping a four-game winning streak with a 62-52 win over perennial Class A power Dillon at the Butte Civic Center.
The non-conference victory marked the first time the Bulldogs found the win column since beating Missoula Big Sky by the same score Dec. 11 at the Butte Civic Center.
“I think tonight was a big step, and actually last game was a big step, too,” said Butte High senior Clay Ferguson, who scored 10 of his game-high 18 points in the third quarter. “The last game (Saturday against Great Falls High) kind of built some confidence, even though we didn’t win.”
It was all about confidence for the Bulldogs (2-5), who have struggled shooting over the first part of the season. For Ferguson, it was also about getting back to what he did best.
Much of the damage he did was from the mid-range jumper, the shot that led Ferguson to all-conference honors last year.
“That’s kind of my bread and butter, at least it was last year,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been trying to incorporate that a lot more.”
Once the shots started falling for the Bulldogs, their confidence grew.
“When you see one go down, it just feels good,” Ferguson said. “It starts clicking.”
That was the story for the whole team, Ferguson said.
“It’s kind of like that for everybody. It’s just confidence building,” he said. “You see it go down in practice, and it just kind of clicked that we’ve been capable of doing this. We just haven’t played to our potential.”
That potential was on display right from the start Tuesday night.
Butte High got production from up and down the lineup. Senior Danny McCloseky poured in 14 points for the Bulldogs. Senior Kale McCarthy scored nine points, and 6-foot-6 sophomore Jake Olson scored eight.
Powers was excited about the play of Olson, whose eight points only begins to tell the story of his night.
“You’re seeing Jake Olson develop kind of right before all of our eyes as the season progresses,” the coach said. “He goes and gets us eight points, but a ton of boards. We probably could have found him even more. The development there is awesome.
“As the season progresses we’re going to keep improving, and he’s a big piece of it,” Powers added. “He’s 6-6, and we don’t grow too many of those around here.”
Senior Trevyn Roth joined McCloskey with a pair of 3-poitners and scored seven points, while junior Tommy Mellott scored five and senior Kash Kelly tossed in one.
Kelly dished out several flashy assists, while Mellott was a force defensively.
The 6-foot Mellott was charged with slowing down Dillon star Michael Haverfield. The 6-4 senior finished with a team-leading 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
“That’s one of the best players in the state of Montana, at any level,” Powers said of Haverfield. “For the most part, Tommy just did a phenomenal job on him.”
Butte High’s teammates acknowledged Mellott’s defense after the game.
“It was a total great team effort,” Powers said. “You go in the locker, and the kids are all swatting Tommy on the ass, talking about what a great job he did. That’s a cool thing, too, when it’s not all about the guys scoring baskets.”
Jake Vetter, Billy Kelly and Ryan Burt also contributed for the Bulldog, who didn’t trail after Roth’s second 3-pointer in the first quarter. That long ball, which was assisted by Kash Kelly, put the Bulldogs up 11-10.
Butte High led 13-11 after the first quarter. With his foot on the NBA 3-point line, McCloskey sank a 3-pointer to open the second quarter that saw Butte High outscore Dillon 17-8 to take command.
Ferguson extended the lead by scoring eight of the first 10 points in the second half for a 38-21 Bulldog lead.
The Beavers (7-4), as expected, didn’t go away. They closed the third quarter with a 9-2 run to pull within 10 points at 40-30.
Butte High, however, pretty much ended Dillon’s comeback hopes by scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter. McCloskey opened with a three, Olson scored inside, and McCarthy hit a pair of free throws.
That gave the Bulldogs the cushion they needed to pull out the elusive win.
“They’re settling in,” Powers said. “What you saw there is a talented group that’s finding some chemistry and starting to play together and gaining a little bit of confidence. This team that’s out there on the floor is the same team that at the beginning of the season that we thought we could contend for a state title with.”
Cole Johnson and Dylan Cervelli each scored eight points for the Beavers, who were coming off a heartbreaking 2-point loss to Hamilton at home.
Bradley Rakich scored six points, Jace Fitzgerald and Warren DeMark each scored five, Braden Anderson tossed in three, and Justus Peterson netted two.
Powers had plenty of praise for the Beavers, a team that had won six of seven against the Bulldogs heading in.
“That’s a nice basketball team,” Powers said. “We don’t get any easy Class A teams. We have Dillon. They’ve won infinity state titles in the last how many years, and then we have Butte Central. They probably have a more talented team this year than they have in a long time.
“There’s no breaks when we play Class A.”
Overall, Powers said the key for the Bulldogs was they finally played loose and had some fun Tuesday night.
“One of my big messages before the game, I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be honest with you guys. I’m going to have fun. I’m excited to coach. And I think you guys should do the same. Play hard, play smart and be winners,’” Powers said. “That’s what they did tonight.”
The Bulldogs will try to keep the mojo rolling Friday and Saturday when they take a road trip to Billings to take on Billings Skyview and Billings West.
DILLON (7-4) — Michael Haverfield 5 2-2 15, Braden Anderson 1 1-2 3, Cole Truman 0 0-0 0, Bradley Rabich 2 2-3 6, Jace Fitzgerald 2 0-0 5, Warren DeMark 2 0-0 4, Cole Johnston 2 4-4 8, Justin Peterson 1 0-0 2, Dylan Cervelli 3 0-0 8, Alfred Peterson 0 0-0 0, Jade Morast 2 0-0 5. Totals 18 9-11 52.
BUTTE HIGH (2-5) — Kash Kelly 0 1-2 1, Tommy Mellott 2 1-2 5, Clay Ferguson 8 2-3 18, Danny McCloskey 3 6-10 14, Jake Olson 4 0-1 8, Trevyn Roth 2 1-2 7, Jake Vetter 0 0-0 0,Billy Kelly 0 0-0 0, Ryan Burt 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 14-26 62.
Dillon 11 8 11 22 — 52
Butte High 13 17 10 22 — 62
3-point goals — Dillon 7 (Haverfield 3, Cervelli 2, Fitzgerald, DeMark), Butte 4 (Roth 2, McCloskey 2). Fouls — Dillon 19, Butte 13. Fouled out — Anderson. Technicals — none.