Butte Central ousts Billings Central from State A tourney

By Bruce Sayler

Nine o’clock in the morning would seem to be too early for that much adrenaline and that much intensity to be so evident.
Don’t tell the Butte Central Maroons or the Billings Central Rams, or their 2,700 or so fans who packed the Maroon Activities Center Saturday morning for a boys’ loser-out game of the state Class A high school basketball tournament.
Butte Central won, 58-54, to earn a spot versus Columbia Falls in the tournament’s 3:30 afternoon third-place game at the Butte Civic Center.
“I can’t believe the support we had on a Saturday morning,” Brodie Kelly head coach of the Maroons. “I feel like this team is such a good representation of this school – being undersized underdogs and fun to rally behind. We have three freshmen playing big roles.”
Senior Zane Moodry, at 6-foot-5 one of only two Maroons taller than 6 feet in the regular rotation, echoed his coach’s appreciation for the Butte Central fans.
“The gym was really, really loud and the huge crowd really helped (inspire the team),” he said. “That’s the most I’ve ever seen the MAC packed.”
No double-digit lead ever existed in the spirited game between the state’s two Class A Catholic high school sports rivals. Billings Central came out with six 3-pointers while grabbing a 20-13 lead after the first quarter. It was to be the Rams’ largest advantage of the game. Billings Central 6-4 senior Kyler Northrop netted half of his six 3-balls in the quarter on the way to a team-high 24 points.
“Northrop is a good player,” Moodry complimented. “He put a few in over my head in the first half, but I played him a little better in the second half and my teammates helped out on him.”
A 23-8 Butte Central run through the second quarter gave the Maroons the lead for good, a 36-28 halftime margin. Junior guard Owen McPartland, the game’s top scorer with 28 points, keyed the Butte Central run with a four-point play, a 3-ball and another two free throws.
The four-point play – a 3-point basket with an and-one – gave Butte Central a 26-25 edge with 4 minutes left in the half. Howie Martin netted two foul shots for Billings Central on the next possession for the Rams’ last lead.
The Maroons surged with Jack Keeley scoring a layin, then putting in two charity tosses before McPartland notched another 3-pointer and Moodry led a fast break for a layup. Butte-rooted Adam Balkenbush caged a freebie for the Rams before McPartland scored the last two points of the half on free throws. Butte Central led 36-28.
“I can’t say enough about Owen,” Kelly said. “He was so good with the ball today, so confident, under control. Offensively, he took the team on his shoulders.”
He certainly did at the end of the game when need was most.
A collision in a loose-ball scramble with under a minute left in the half bought some potentially volatile moments, but the officials controlled the situation well. They got out of the incident with only a personal foul and technical foul called, and all players able to remain eligible to continue in the game. Everybody was awake, now.
No anger seemed to linger for the second half.
The teams played an even third quarter, and a white-knuckler of a fourth.
Northrop and Sam Jagodzinski shot in 3-pointers in a 10-6 Billings Central run that pulled the Rams to within 54-51 of the Maroons. McPartland, having scored four of Butte Central’s first six points of the frame, tallied on a tough drive to stem the tide.
Darcy Merchant Jr. answered for Billings Central with a 3-pointer and his team was within 56-54 with 1:50 on the clock. McPartland missed a 3-ball as the shot clock was near expiration and Jagodzinski grabbed the rebound.
However, a Rams pass past midcourt sailed out of bounds to turn possession over to the Maroons. McPartland made good on two charity tosses and Butte Central had a four-point lead with 30 seconds left. The Rams tried to set up a clear three against a tight Maroon defense and Northrop put up a shot.
It missed and the rebound bounced out of bounds, possession going over to Butte Central. The last ticks melted off the clock and the Maroons earned one more game to play for a trophy,
“I think it’s still pretty good to be playing on Saturday night at State,” Moodry said. “It’s not for the gold plaque like we wanted, but, like Brodie said, but getting a chance to play for hardware at State five out of six years is special.”
Kelly and the kids shook off the disappointment of Friday’s loss to Lewistown in the semifinals well.
“It was courageous by our guys,” Kelly agreed. “Last year (when the Maroons placed third after a loss to Dillon in the semifinals), I wrote on the board ‘reveal your character when the chips are down.’ I think the kids showed a lot about themselves today.”
The Maroons will also be going for their 20th win this season when they take on Columbia Falls for third place.
Moodry noticed the challenge to that possibility early Saturday morning.
“I think all of us had bigger expectations Friday night,” he said. “I can say for myself it took a while to get started today. In the second half, as a group, we played better defensively.”
Kelly noted Parker Robertson’s “game-changing hustle plays” and McPartland’s moxie.
“When Owen has control of the ball, he makes good decisions” the coach said.
Keeley tallied 13 points and eight rebounds to join McPartland in double figures in the scoring totals. McPartland was 9-for-9 from the foul line. The Maroons also got five points from Ryan Peoples, four each from Moodry and Robertson, and two each from Joshua Sutton and GG Fantini. Patrick Stimatz also played. The team missed only two of 19 free throws.
Merchant registered 11 points to back Northrop’s 24 for Billings Central. Ayden Salter pulled down eight rebounds. The Rams sank a dozen 3-pointers.
BUTTE CENTRAL (19-5) – Joshua Sutton 1-1 0-0 2, Ryan Peoples 1-5 2-2 5, Jack Keeley 4-13 4-6 13, Owen McPartland 8-19 9-9 28, Zane Moodry 2-3 0-0 4, Patrick Stimatz 0-0 0-0 0, GG Fantini 1-2 0-0 2, Parker Robertson 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 18-46 17-19 58.
BILLINGS CENTRAL (20-4) – Ayden Salter 1-1 0-0 2, Darcy Merchant Jr. 4-12 1-1 11, Maddox Roberts 0-1 0-0 0, Adam Balkenbush 1-3 1-2 4, Kyler Northrop 9-16 0-0 24, Howie Martin 1-3 2-2 5, Kellen Reas 0-0 0-0 0, Vincent Souza 0-2 0-0 0, Sam Jogodzinski 3-6 0-0 8. Totals 19-44 4-5 54.
Butte Central 13 23 12 10 – 58
Billings Central 20 8 13 13 – 54
3-point goals – Butte 5-17 (Peoples 1-4, Keeley 1-6, McPartland 3-7), Billings 12-24 (Merchant 2-4, Balkenbush 1-3, Northrop 6-12, Martin 1-2, Jagodzinski 2-3). Fouled out – none. Total fouls – Butte 12, Billings 16. Technical – Martin. Rebounds – Butte 28 (Keeley 8), Billings 26 (Salter 6). Blocks – Butte 0, Billings 1 (Merchant). Assists – Butte 7 (Peoples 2, Keeley 2), Billings 7 (Merchant 5). Steals – Butte 5 (Keeley 2), Billings 5 (Reas 2). Turnovers – Butte 9, Billings 14.