By Bill Foley
Looking back, it was probably a sign that things were going to go in Butte High’s favor.
Bulldog senior Tylar Clary found herself wide open from a step or two behind the 3-point line early in the third quarter. So, almost as if she said “what the heck,” Clary tossed up a shot she later called a “Hail Mary.”
“She made it,” classmate Kodie Hoagland said, “but it made me laugh.”
Thanks in large part to that bucket, the Bulldogs were laughing again after the game. That’s because the Bulldogs knocked off Helena High 40-29 in a Western AA game at the Ross J. Richardson Gymnasium.
Hoagland, who scored a team-leading 12 points, attributed the win to teamwork.
“I think we just came together as a team really well,” she said. “Our past couple of games we haven’t done the best. I think we started to trust each other.”
While Clary’s shot seemed like an answered prayer, the start of the game seemed like it was going to be anything but Butte High’s night. Helena High jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and nothing was going Butte High’s way.
Avery Kraft and Alex Bullock hit 3-pointers to highlight the run for the Bengals, and Butte High did not score until the clock read 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first quarter.
That’s when junior Laura Rosenleaf grabbed a rebound and fed senior Brooke McGrath, who swished a 3-pointer to get the Bulldogs going.
After a Rosenleaf free throw, McGrath hit another trey to cut the lead to 10-7.
Bullock hit a jumper before Kraft sank a three 2 seconds before the buzzer, and Helena led 15-7 after the first quarter.
“We’ve been digging ourselves a hole each game,” Butte High coach Bryan Arntson said. “Once we made a bucket, we finally settled in. We were able to then play basketball.”
The Bulldogs chipped away at the lead, and Butte pulled to within 22-19 when Hoagland scored a second before halftime.
Clary’s “Hail Mary” tied the game at 22 just 11 seconds into the second half. That was the only bucket by either side over the first 4 minutes, 37 seconds of the third quarter.
“It was a battle there in the second half to see who could get some buckets,” Arntson said. “I was really proud of the ‘D.’ We knew they could get hot from three, and we played with a ton of effort. That was good to see.
“We rebounded well, and we played good team defense. We got our hands on a lot of passes, got some touches and deflections. It was nice.”
Junior Payton Clary fed Rosenleaf for a bucket with 3:23 left in the quarter to put Butte High on top for the first time at 24-22.
Tylar Clary and senior Ashley Olson each hit free throws before Bullock drove for a hoop, and Butte High took a 26-24 edge into the final frame.
Kraft hit a 3-pointer to put the Bengals up 27-26 with 6:26 left in the game. After Olson scored off a Rosenleaf pass, Bullock hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 28 with 5:19 left.
Then came the other nominee for the play of the game.
Shortly after hitting of two free throws to put Butte High up for good, Hoagland found junior Emmarie Richards with a beautiful pass to set up a three-point play with 4:33 on the clock.
“I got stuck, and I saw a really good back cut,” Hoagland said. “I bounced passed it in, an I’m glad she made it.”
By the time the dust had settled, the Bulldogs had control of the game with a 9-0 run. Butte High’s final six points of the night came from the free throw line.
“It was a really good win,” Arntson said. “A (Class) AA conference game at home. You’ve got to have them. I’m proud of the girls. The effort was really good. The execution wasn’t so great always, but that’ stuff we can work on. The effort was awesome.”
Part of that struggling to execute came at the free throw line. The Bulldogs took advantage of a 29-12 foul advantage and shot 35 free throws. The Bulldogs, though, made just 18 of those.
Hoagland scored six points in the second quarter and six more in the fourth. She said the Bulldogs got a boost from the home crowd in the loud gym.
“We haven’t had that in a long time,” she said. “That was really cool to hear everybody.”
Olson scored eight points to go along with a couple of blocks, while McGrath finished with seven points. Richards and Tylar Clary each scored five, and Rosenleaf tossed in three.
Rosenleaf also grabbed nine rebounds. Hoagland got five.
Pieper Joseph also contributed in the win for the Bulldogs, who improved to 7-4 overall and 3-4 in conference.
Kraft scored eight of her team-leading 12 points in the first quarter. Bullock added 10 points for the Bengals, who fell to 5-4 and 2-3. Maloree English scored five points, and Kim Feller netted two.
The Bulldogs will have a little break before they head to Kalispell to take on Flathead and Glacier Feb. 4-5. Butte’s next home game is Feb. 8 against Missoula Hellgate.
HELENA HIGH (5-4, 2-3) — Maloree English 2 0-0 5, Avery Kraft 4 1-2 12, Alex Bullock 4 1-4 10, Logan Todorovich 0 0-0 0, Kim Feller 1 0-0 2, Ashley Koenig 0 0-0 0, Emma Stilson 0 0-0 0, Kylee Gardipee 0 0-0 0, Lauren Heuiser 0 0-0 0, Madi Todorovich 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 2-6 29.
BUTTE HIGH (7-4, 3-4) — Kodie Hoatland 2 7-13 12, Laura Rosenleaf 1 1-4 3, Tylar Clary 1 2-6 5, Brooke McGrath 2 1-2 7, Ashley Olson 1 6-9 8, Payton Clary 0 0-0 0, Pieper Joseph 0 0-0 0, Emmarie Richards 2 1-1 5. Totals 9 18-35 40.
Helena 15 7 2 5 — 29
Butte 7 12 7 14 — 40
3-point goals — Helena 5 (Kraft 3, English 1, Bullock 1), Butte 4 (McGrath 2, Hoagland 1, Clary 1). Fouls — Helena 29, Butte 12. Fouled out — English, Todorovich. Technical — English.