BOZEMAN — Butte Central will be bringing home its first-ever trophy from a state high school volleyball tournament.
The Maroons capped a 2-0 day at the state Class A tourney Thursday with a 21-25, 25-12, 25-9, 25-18 win over defending champion Belgrade.
The tournament is being played through Saturday in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the Montana State University campus.
It was like the Belgrade players came out and kicked the Maroons in the shins with the win in the first set after falling to the BC girls twice in sweeps in regular-season non-conference matches.
Butte Central came back with a vengeance and dominated play in the next three sets and, as a result, will play at 6 p.m. Friday against Columbia Falls in the winners’ bracket semifinal-round match. The winner will advance directly to Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship match. The loser will finish no lower than third place in the tournament and will play at 11 a.m. on Saturday against an opponent to be determined in the consolation bracket semifinal.
The winner of the 11 a.m. Saturday match will play for the championship at 1 versus Friday’s Butte Central-Columbia Falls winner. Should a second championship match be needed in the true double-elimination format of the tourney, it will be played at 3 p.m.
Columbia Falls advanced to Friday’s semifinal by stunning 2013 champion and reigning Western A Super-divisional champion Corvallis 25-22, 14-25, 25-16, 25-23.
Belgrade, winner of the East-Central SuperDivisional last week, overcame an early service run by Butte Central’s Teresa Piazzola, caught fire and charged ahead for the first-game momentum. The Panthers took the lead at 9-8 on a Maroon’s hitting mistake then got a four-point serving run from Jordan Branch, who sandwiched a pair of aces around kills by Sydney Lambeth and Bailey Christensen. Belgrade steadily built and maintained its lead and then had to weather a comeback by the Maroons. Taylor Wahl served a run that closed the gap to 19-18 and was punctuated by a kill and block by Lacey McGree and a kill by Corbyn Holm.
Christensen placed a shot in the open court to blunt the rally. The Panthers gained game point at 24-20 as Christensen nailed a kill. Piazzola pounded one for BC before Christensen clubbed another to end the set.
“I really thought we came out with a set of jitters again,” Butte Central head coach Becky Hancock said, alluding to the afternoon first round when the Maroons overcame nerves to sweep Havre after trailing by a sizable deficit in the first set. “Belgrade was shooting deep on us and they were going to our middle. We weren’t moving our feet. They were picking up a lot of our stuff and it was hard, too.
“We made the adjustments in the second set, but we were nervous the first two sets in each game. It may have been the atmosphere, or the girls thinking about what they can do here. They did find a way to win.”
Serving runs by McKenzie Gallagher, Wahl, Holm and Mollie Peoples established a 19-9 margin for Butte Central in the second set. Holm, McGree, Piazzola and Ryan Trudnowski all connected on power shots and Emily St. John scored on a block and a fake set she dumped over the net. The Panthers committed several errors. One, a shot caught in the net, posted set point, 24-12. BC’s Sierra Pica then plastered a kill off an attempted block and squared the match count at 1-all.
“Our hitters did well,” Hancock said. The third game was even more emphatic. St. John served Butte Central to a 4-0 command with two aces, a block by Trudnowski and a kill by Pica. A couple of side-outs later, Piazzola toed the line with a 6-3 lead and grew it to 14-3 in an eight-point run. Holm belted three kills in the run, and Trudnowski had a block and a kill. The Maroons reached set point, 24-9, on a Belgrade service error, then won the set on a placement tip by St. John. The Panthers didn’t reach double figures.
Butte Central established control similarly in the fourth game. The Panthers never led but forged three ties before falling behind 6-5 on a kill by Holm. The big service run was by Peoples’ six points, widened the Maroons’ margin to 15-6. Four of the points were scored on Belgrade miscues, the other two on a tip and a kill by Piazzola. The BC lead grew to 23-13 after another Holm kill before the Panthers rallied back, scoring four straight points on two Lambeth kills an ace by Madi Schott and and Butte Central hitting error. Finally, Holm bounced a kill off a Belgrade block attempt to put up match point at 24-18. Piazzola punctuated the performance with a kill.
“We have seven seniors,” Hancock said. “They are leaders and they really have led us this year. They’ve brought everybody together and then they find a way to win.
“Belgrade was all over the place on defense. Class A is a competitive division in general. Our girls want to go out there and show how they can play. They’re making school history. They just gave the school its biggest win in volleyball to date. Now, it’s going to be up to who wants it more as who will be champion.”
St. John smoked three aces and set all 41 of the Maroons’ assists to help lead the way. Holm had 12 kills and Pica had 11. Trudnowski finished with four blocks. Peoples led the floor defense with 29 digs and Piazzola scooped 20.
Belgrade leaders were Christensen with 10 kills, Shania Neubauer with 21 assists and 20 digs, Lambeth with three blocks, and Skyla Neubauer with 33 digs.
Butte Central is 18-3 for the season. Belgrade fell to 18-7.
First-round matches saw Belgrade sweep Whitefish, Butte Central sweep Havre, Columbia Falls defeat Billings Central 3-1 and Corvallis sweep Hardin. In the quarterfinals, Butte Central beat Belgrade 3-1 and Columbia Falls toppled Corvallis 3-1.
10 a.m. — Whitefish (12-7) vs. Havre (14-9), loser out. Noon — Billings Central vs. Hardin, loser out. 2 p.m., Winner of 10 a.m. match vs. Corvallis (15-4), loser out. 4 p.m. — Winner of noon match vs. Belgrade (18-7), loser out. 6 p.m. — Butte Central (18-3) vs. Columbia Falls (18-3), semifinal. 8 p.m. — Winner of 2 p.m. match vs. Winner of 4 p.m. match, loser out.
Butte Central def. Belgrade 21-25, 25-12, 25-9, 25-18.
KILLS — BC 50 (Corbyn Holm 12, Sierra Pica 11, Teresa Piazzola 9), Belgrade 30 (Bailey Christensen 10, Sydney Lambeth 7, Shania Neubauer 5). ASSISTS — BC 41 (Emily St. John 41), Belgrade 22 (Shania Neubauer 21). ACES — BC 5 (St. John 3, Holm 2), Belgrade 7 (Emily Schram 2, Jordan Branch 2, Shania Neubauer 2). DIGS — BC 35 (Mollie Peoples 29, Piazzola 20, St. John 12), Belgrade 88 (Skyla Neubauer 33, Shania Neubauer 20, Schram 17). BLOCKS — BC 12 (Ryan Trudnowski 4, Lacey McGree 3, Pica 3), Belgrade 8 (Lambeth 3, Branch 2, Christensen 2).
Photos courtesy Dan Chesnet, of The Belgrade News. Follow Dan on Twittter.