Butte High girls pull away for eighth straight win

Butte High girls pull away for eighth straight win
Butte High's Ally Cleverly hits the floor for the ball with Erin Watt of Great Falls High Saturday afternoon at the Richardson Gym. (Bill Foley photos)

By Bruce Sayler

Butte High plugged the Great Falls High muskets on Saturday on the way to a 41-25 Eastern AA Conference high school girls’ basketball game in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym.

Unable to get off many shots, the Great Falls High players were unable to score many points. The Bulldogs’ defense mattered, especially when it needed to most. Also, seniors Aspen Lovshin and Ally Cleverley combined for 31 of their team’s 41 points in the low-scoring contest with 23 of their points coming after the teams’ 12-all halftime deadlock.

“We pulled it out,” Lovshin said in relief. “We were a little worried in the first half.”

It was Butte High’s eighth straight triumph. Head coach Maury Cook termed it an “important conference win” and Lovshin likened to salve for a missing teammate.

“She (Brittney Tierney) had a great opportunity and we wanted to win this game for her,” Lovshin said about her and Clevely’s four-year varsity teammate, “because she felt like she was letting us down a little bit by not being here.”

Tierney was absent due to an academics-and-softball recruiting trip for Harvard.

“About only 5 percent of the kids get this opportunity,” Cook easily forgave. “The other kids stepped up for her.”

The Bulldog defense was so stifling that the Bison were held to 25 shots for the game, and only seven got launched in the second half. Butte High held them without a field goal attempt in the third quarter while busting out to a 29-16 command.

Cleverly netted 10 of her 15 points in the period Lovshin cinched up the win with seven of her 16 in the last frame.

“The defense was pretty good,” Lovshin conceded. “The difference in the game, between the second half and the first half, was our defense, for sure.”

Cook credited the superb zone play on the defensive end, too, along with the leadership Cleverly and Lovshin provided on the floor. Lovshin played all the way until the cleanup moments at the end of the game, and Cleverly rested only once briefly until then.

The experienced play of the duo contributed to Butte High committing only five turnovers for the game. Great Falls made 13.

“I’m really proud of Aspen and Al,” Cook said. “Our guards, they really put on the pressure and the kids found some turnovers. We shot better in the second half, being able to open some scoring lanes for Aspen and Ally.”

The slow start saw Great Falls hold a 7-6 edge after one quarter, thanks to a Morgan Sunchild 3-point basket 49 seconds before the end of the period. The Bison stretched their lead to 10-6 on a free throw by Jorgie Hawthorne and fast-break basket by Erin Watt, from a Hawthorne throw.

Lovshin had been missing her floor shots and wasn’t the only Bulldog doing so. So, she decided  to drive the key in a strategy change. She was fouled twice and made three of four free throws to pull Butte High to within 10-9. Hawthorne took a pass from Watt for a bucket on the Great Falls end before Lovshin, now honed in after her trip to the foul line, caged a 3-pointer and forge the 12-all tie that stayed through intermission.

“We’d thought we were going to play in the Civic Center and most of our practices (and games) have been there,” Lovshin said. “But there’s a rodeo there tonight and we only practiced here once before this game.”

Consequently, the Bulldogs’ shooting eyes were a bit off early. They were 4-for-22 from the field in first half, including 1-for-11 from 3-point range.

“When I realize that my shooting isn’t going for me, then driving is the game,” Lovshin said. “We can get some free throws and maybe create opportunities for the other players.”

It worked.

Cook said it took awhile for the Bulldogs to adjust to playing without Tierney. Justise Birkenbuel drew the start in her place with Lovshin, Cleverly, Haley Herron and MaKenna Carpenter, who entered the starting lineup recently when Kira Mortensen suffered a head injury. Mortensen missed Saturday’s game, too, while still recovering.

“Rotations are always off from what we’re used to (when a player is missing) and kids are in positions they aren’t accustomed to,” Cook said.

Cleverly touched off the third-quarter burst with a fast-break basket off a Herron steal, followed by a coast-to-coast layup with a defensive rebound. Annie Toon meshed two charity tosses for Great Falls High, then Cleverly stretched strings from 3-point range. Hadlee Bleskin downed two more freebies for the Bison, then Cleverly notched another 3-pointer and Butte HIgh closed the third quarter on a 10-0 run. The Bulldogs shot 7-for-9 in the frame.

The Bison’s only shots from the field were a missed attempt each by Bleskin and Gracie Lins.

Butte High outscored Great Falls High 12-9 over the final eight minutes and victory was achieved.

“Their post players never went off much,” Cook complimented his defense on the inside.

Birkenbuel finished with six points, and Carpenter and McCaul McCarthy scored two each in support of the scoring by Lovshin and Cleverly. Butte High’s only free throws were all awarded to Lovshin and she converted six of the eight. Herron had five rebounds, second on the team to Carpenter’s six. Grace McGrath and Trisha Ericson also played. The Bulldogs are 9-2 for the year, 6-0 in conference and will be home on Tuesday night against Bozeman.

Watt scored seven points to lead Great Falls High. Ryen Palmer was next with six points. Hawthorne led on the boards with 11 rebounds.  The Bison are 2-9 for the season and 2-3 in league play.

GREAT FALLS HIGH (2-9, 2-3) — Hadlee Bleskin 0-4 2-3 2, Annie Toon 1-3 2-2 4, Gracie Lins 0-3 0-2 0, Jorgie Hawthorne 1-5 1-2 3, Erin Watt 3-6 1-2 7, Ryen Palmer 2-2 1-3 6, Morgan Sunchild 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 8-25 7-14 25.
BUTTE HIGH (9-2, 6-0) — Aspen Lovshin 4-11 6-8 16, MaKenna Carpenter 1-6 0-0 2, Justise Birkenbuel 3-4 0-0 6, Ally Cleverly 6-10 0-0 15, Haley Herron 0-7 0-0 0, Grace McGrath 0-0 0-0 0, McCaul McCarthy 1-1 0-0 2, Trisha Ericson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-39 6-8 41.
Great Falls High       7          5          4          9 — 25
Butte High                 6          6          17        12 — 41

3-point goals — GF 2-6 (Lins 0-1, Hawthorne 0-2, Palmer 1-1, Sunchild 1-2), Butte 5-18 (Lovshin 2-7, Carpenter 0-3, Birkenbuel 0-1, Cleverly 3-5, Herron 0-2). Fouled out — Palmer. Total fouls — GF 11, Butte 13. Technicals — none. Rebounds — GF 21 (Hawthorne 11), Butte 24 (Carpenter 6). Blocks — GF 1 (Watt), Butte 0. Assists — GF 5 (Palmer 2, Watt 2), Butte 10 (Birkenbuel 3, Herron 2, Carpenter 2, Lovshin 2). Steals — GF 3 (Bleskin 1, Lins 1, Palmer 1), Butte 8 (Herron 3, Birkenbuel 2, Carpenter 2). Turnovers — GF 13, Butte 5.


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