By Bill Foley
Makenna Carpenter isn’t used to the spotlight.
The 5-foot-8 is more of a behind-the-scenes force for the surging Butte High girls’ basketball team.
All eyes were on Carpenter Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center, however.
Carpenter swished an 18-foot jumper with 4 seconds left, and Butte High upset previously unbeaten Billings West 48-46 in an Eastern AA thriller.
“It’s great for her,” Butte High coach Maury Cook said. “She doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, but she does all the dirty work for us. She rebounds, she’s on the floor. She plays great defense for us every night against big kids, her and Haley (Herron).
“For her to hit the big shot at the end was great.”
After Carpenter’s jumper, which was assisted by Ally Cleverly, West called timeout with 3.3 seconds left. The Bulldog defense didn’t let the Golden Bears get off a shot, and Butte High’s players mobbed Carpenter at midcourt.
“When Ally passed it to me I was nervous, but I’m glad it worked out that way,” Carpenter said. “I was just thinking ‘don’t foul, don’t foul’ and just give it to my guards. I know they could pull through. But, it came to me, so I just had to finish the game.”
The win was Butte High’s sixth straight. That’s the Bulldogs longest winning streak since the team won 12 straight games from Jan. 5 through Feb. 16 of 2013.
It is also Butte High’s biggest win since at least 2013, the last time the Bulldogs went to the Class AA state tournament. The victory puts the Bulldogs (7-2 overall) alone in first place at 4-0 in the Eastern AA.
West fell to 8-1 and 3-1. The Bears’ closest game coming in was a 13-point win at Bozeman.
“This is really big,” Carpenter said. “I think this makes us No. 1 in the conference, and we’re all really excited about it.”
Butte High led most of the way, taking a 16-10 lead after the first quarter and a 29-24 advantage at halftime.
Herron hit a jumper and Aspen Lovshin sank a 3-pointer as the Bulldogs led 34-25 early in the third quarter.
As expected, West battled back. The Bears tied the game at 36 on a Shayla Montague 3-ponter with 1 minute, 30 seconds left in the third.
Cleverly took a pass from Herron and hit a 3-ponter to give the Bulldogs the lead back at 39-36 just 23 seconds later.
West took the lead of the second half when TyLee Manuel scored on a putback to make it 40-39 Bears with 4:19 left.
Again, the Bulldogs answered. Justise Birkenbuel scored off a Brittney Tierney pass to put Butte back on top. After Willa Albrecht scored an inside hoop, Lovshin hit a 3-pointer for a 44-42 lead.
West tied the game at 44 when Shea Dolan drove for a bucket with 2:26 left.
With West in a zone defense, Butte High stalled until Birkenbuel fed Herron for a hoop and a 46-44 lead with 35 seconds left.
“Offensively, we were really efficient,” Cook said, looking at the team stats on an iPad. “We took care of the ball really well today. We only had six turnovers by this. Boy, that’s huge for us to control the ball.”
When Maddie Albrecht hit both ends of a one and one to knot the game at 46 with 27.3 seconds left, it was time for Carpenter to shine.
“It’s just a huge win for the program, a great step forward for these kids,” Cook said. “They really played their asses off tonight. Defensively, we were all over the place Haley on those posts. I don’t know what they got inside, but it wasn’t a ton.”
Lovshin and Cleverly each hit three 3-pointers on the night. Lovshin scored a game-high 15 points, while Cleverly joined Herron with 13. Birkenbuel scored five, and Carpenter scored the big two.
Tierney was held scoreless. The Bulldog senior, however, did just about everything else needed to get the win.
McCaul McCarthy also contributed for the Bulldogs who are still without injured Kira Mortensen, Butte High’s only player taller than 5-foot-9.
“Our kids played hard,” Cook said. “Everybody who stepped on the floor contributed for us. McCaul took a big charge for us. She’s playing the JV games and seriously getting four or five of those charges a game. We just put her in and told her to take one, and she did.
“We had Aspen (5-4) playing one of the Manuel girls that posts up all the time, and they didn’t get a lot on us.”
Montague and Maddie Albrecht each scored 11 points to lead the Bears. TyLee Manuel scored eight, while Willa Albrecht tossed in five.
“That was a really good win for us,” Carpenter said. “Our offense was a lot better tonight than it was last night against Skyview. That helped a lot.”
Carpenter said the Bulldogs realized they had a huge challenge with the red-hot and very-tall Bears coming to town.
“We were all feeling a lot of pressure, especially since we’re undersized,” she said. “But we played with them.”
Butte High will look to extend its winning streak with two Eastern AA games next week. The Bulldogs play at Great Falls Russell on Thursday before hosting Great Falls High on Saturday.
West will play host to Bozeman and Laurel next Thursday and Saturday.
BILLINGS WEST (8-1, 3-1) — TyLee Manuel 4 0-0 8, Shayla Montague 4 0-0 11, TyRaa Manuel 1 0-0 3, Maddie Albrecht 4 3-3 11, Willa Albrecht 2 1-3 5, Shea Dolan 2 0-1 4, Laeten Lantis 0 2-2 2, Kinzee Koch 1 0-0 2, Kendell Ellis 2 1-3 5. Totals 18 6-9 46.
BUTTE HIGH (7-2, 4-0) — Aspen Lovshin 4 2-2 15, Makenna Carpenter 1 0-0 2, Ally Cleverly 5 0-0 13, Brittney Tierney 0 0-0 0, Haley Herron 6 1-2 13, Justise Birkenbuel 2 0-0 4, McCaul McClafferty 0 0-0 0,
Billings West 10 15 11 10 — 46
Butte High 16 13 10 9 — 48
3-point goals — West 4 (Montague 3), TyRaa Manuel), Butte 7 (Lovshin 3, Cleverly 3, Birkenbuel). Fouls — West 8, Butte 14. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.