By Bill Foley
HELENA — Saturday’s consolation game was a little bitter-sweet for the Butte High girls’ basketball team.
The Bulldogs were disappointed that they fell 49-41 to Sentinel for the third-place trophy at the Western AA Divisional tournament at Carroll College’s P.E. Center. (Stats)
Still the Bulldogs were playing on Saturday evening, and that means they are heading to the Class AA State tournament. Butte High will play the Eastern AA champion at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Billings Metra.
“It was a good weekend for sure,” Butte High coach Bryan Arntson said. “I’m a little disappointed in that last game. They were a little tired, and they needed some energy. That happens, but we’ve got to learn that we play to win.”
The atmosphere was a bit anticlimactic for the game. Even Butte High’s student section, which brought energy all weekend, took a seat for the final Bulldog game.
Still, the Bulldogs (11-11) battled the whole way.
Butte High played from behind most of the way, but the Bulldogs kept making runs.
Sentinel (11-11) led 11-7 after the first quarter, and 21-19 at the half.
When the Spartans opened the third quarter with a 10-2 run, it looked like the Bulldogs were done.
They were not.
Brooke Groesbeck hit a free throw before Brooke McGrath hit one. Then freshman Brityn Stewart sank a 3-pointer to pull Butte High to within 31-28.
It was not the first time Stewart came up big for the Bulldogs on the day. In the morning game, Stewart scored seven points in the second quarter as the Bulldogs overcame a seven-point deficit.
“She was a huge key this morning,” Arntson said. “She came in, was a spark of the bench and got us going. Everybody came off the bench rolling and contributing this weekend, which is good. We’ll need it again next week.”
Sentinel though, scored six straight to make it a 37-28 game after three quarters.
That is when the officials of the game realized that the game was being played with a men’s ball. They switched to a women’s ball for the final 8 minutes.
“We shot it pretty well over the first three quarters, considering it was a men’s ball,” Arntson said. “I don’t know if the officials didn’t know or that the girls played three quarters. Brityn Stewart said, ‘It felt huge.’”
After Emily McElmury scored to extend the lead to 39-28, the Bulldogs ran off eight straight points. That run included buckets by Laura Rosenleaf, Ashley Olson and McGrath, who scored off a Rosenleaf pass.
Sentinel, though, finished off the win with a 9-2 run of their own.
McElmurry finished with 13 points to pace the Spartans. Olivia Huntsinger tossed in 10 points, while Brooke Stayner scored six. Sentinel also got five from Kodi Fraser and four apiece from Kassidy Kirgan and Lily Allen.
McGrath, a senior playing on two sore ankles, scored 11 points to pace the Bulldogs. Classmate Olson scored nine, and fellow senior Kodie Hoagland tossed in eight.
Stewart finished with six points, Rosenleaf contributed with four points, eight rebounds and four steals. Emmarie Richards scored two points for Butte, and Groesbeck finished with one.
Sisters Tylar and Payton Clarry were also key contributors for the Bulldogs. Rian Ferriter, Pieper Joseph and Olivia Spear saw time, too.
“I’m grateful to continue another week with these guys,” Arntson said. “It’s awesome both boys and girls being able to go, and also with Butte Central. It’s good for the community. It’s going to be fun.”
The only other time all four teams from Butte’s two high schools played in the State tournament in the same season was in 2013.
Arntson, though, said Butte High has bigger goals as they head to Billings.
“We’ve got to recover, get in some practice and not just be satisfied that we made it to State,” he said.