It is high-octane basketball that the Butte High girls are learning to play this season — no brakes and very little downshifting.
The Bulldogs pushed the pedal to the medal all night Thursday and it was Missoula Big Sky that became gassed. Butte High posted the 88-81 victory in non-conference Class AA play at the Butte Civic Center.
Senior Sammy McGree scored 30 points, grabbed two rebounds, dished and assist and grabbed a steal to lead the win, one that squared the team’s record at 2-all so early in the season. The Bulldogs performed it with contributions from 13 players and with two stars — senior Hailey Hoagland and 6-foot-3 junior Brianna O’Mara — sidelined. Both found out this week their season is over, both needing reconstructive knee surgeries for the second time in their young careers as a result of sports injuries.
First-year head coach Liza Dennehy confirmed the injuries, a meniscus complication that will finish Hoagland’s prep sports career before she eventually joins the University of Montana golf team, and a ligament tear that will keep O’Mara off the court until at least midway through her senior year next season, she said.
Dennehy liked the way the 13 players available powered through the early adversity.
“Sammy McGree had an awesome game, but it, the win, wasn’t just Sammy,” Dennehy said. “It was all of them working together.”
Dennehy substituted like a hockey coach, putting in a whole new unit every few minutes, sometimes few seconds, of the game. The frenetic pace seemed to produce panic.
Big Sky lost despite outshooting the Bulldogs from the field and outrebounding them by 20 boards. However, Butte High harassed the Eagles into 30 turnovers, including 20 steals. Keeping Big Sky from taking clear shots was likely the defensive key, along with picking the ball from the Eagles whenever the taller Missoula team put the ball on the floor. The tired Big Sky team also committed 28 fouls, creating 41 free throws for the Bulldogs, 25 of which they converted.
“We’re only two weeks into it, so there are still a lot of things we need to clean up,” Dennehy said. “But everybody shoots the ‘3’ and everybody rebounds and plays defense. We’re trying to create turnovers and steals — scoring opportunities. The kids played well tonight.”
McKaul Ori shot in 12 points to back McGree while Ashten McCloskey was also in double figures with 10 points. Mariah Richardson was close with nine, all on 3-point baskets. Butte High hit 11 times from outside the arc.
Maddy Shaide led Big Sky with 20 points, DanI Baker scored 16 and Kendra Joyce registered 12 points and nine rebounds. Morgan Johnson caged 10 points.
“Our intensity level is getting to where it’s meant to be,” Dennehy said. “We get a rebound or a turnover, shoot a ‘3’ and then do it all over again. What’s not to like?”
Big Sky led early, jumping ahead 6-1 and 16-0 before Butte High overtook the Eagles at the end of the first quarter. The play of Baker, Shaide, Joyce and sophomore post Anna Gragg led Big Sky at the start, but Butte High closed the first period with a 12-4 run for a 21-20 edge at the break.
Ori and McCloskey netted treys in the spree to spark the run. The Eagles soared to a 27-23 advantage at the beginning of the second quarter as Johnson came off the bench to score four quick points. Butte High retaliated with a Richardson 3-pointer, then took the lead for good on an inside basket by Maria Michelotti off a pass from Lexi Murphy.
The Bulldogs built a 45-39 margin by halftime, weathered a determined third-quarter effort by the Eagles and then held them off in the final stanza. McGree sank free throws with 25 and 11 seconds left to deflate any remaining hopes Big Sky and its fans may have had for a win.
The teams combined for 56 points in the last frame.
“We came out after halftime and it took us a few shifts to dial up the intensity again,” Dennehy said. “I feel good about (the peformance), but there’s still a lot of work to do and a lot to learn. The kids, though, I think are having fun and are wanting to get better.”
Kassidy Caprara scored eight points for Butte High, Michelotti finished with seven, Andie Hogan five, Bethany McLean four, Murphy two and Amanda Casagrande one. Justyce Connole, Lakyn Ludwick and Shaelyn Hafer also contributed to the win.
Michelotti led the team on the board with six rebounds and also swatted an Eagle’s shot away. McCloskey, Murphy and Hogan dished two assists each, and Caprara and Ori came up with four steals apiece to pace a key part of the defense.
MISSOULA BIG SKY — DanI Baker 5-12 4-6 16, Sidney Davis 3-5 1-2 7, Kendra Joyce 4-6 2-4 12, Maddy Shaide 6-10 5-9 20, Anna Gragg 2-4 0-0 4, McKenna Arledge 3-9 0-0 6, Morgan Johnson 5-8 0-2 10, Kenzie Hanson 2-4 0-0 4, Kendall Mooney 1-4 0-0 2, Emily Hooker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-62 12-23 81.
BUTTE HIGH (2-2) — Mariah Richardson 3-6 0-0 9, Sammy McGree 8-14 11-15 30, Lexi Murphy 1-4 0-0 2, Maria Michelotti 3-7 1-4 7, Andie Hogan 1-4 2-2 5, McKaul Ori 4-7 2-2 12, Ashten McCloskey 3-8 3-6 10, Bethany McLean 1-3 1-4 4, Amanda Casagranda 0-3 1-2 1, Kassidy Caprara 2-4 4-4 8, Justyce Connole 0-0 0-2 0, Lakyn Ludwick 0-0 0-0 0, Shaelyn Hafer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 25-41 88.
Msla. Big Sky 20 19 13 29 — 81
Butte High 21 24 16 27 — 88
3-point goals — MBS 7-15 (Baker 2-5, Joyce 2-2, Shaide 3-5, Arledge 0-2, Hanson 0-1), Butte 11-33 (Richardson 3-5, McGree 3-8. Murphy 0-1, Hogan 1-3, Ori 2-5, McCloskey 1-6, McLean 1-3, Casagranda 0-2). Fouled out — Joyce, Michelotti, Caprara. Total fouls — MBS 28, Butte 22. Technicals — none. Rebounds — MBS 53 (Joyce 9), Butte 33 (Michelotti 6). Blocks — MBS 1 (Gragg), Buitte 1 (Michelotti). Assists — MBS 13 (Arledge 5), Butte 9 (McCloskey 2, Murphy 2, Hogan 2). Turnovers — MBS 30, Butte 11.