By Bruce Sayler
Well, the tournament jitters certainly were not a factor Friday for the undefeated Butte Central high school girls’ basketball team.
The Maroons demolished Frenchtown 63-28 in the semifinal round of the Western A SuperDivisional at the Butte Civic Center, running their season record to 20-0. The BC girls will 19-1 Columbia Falls on Saturday in the 8:15 p.m. championship game. Both teams have secured spots in the state Class A girls’ basketball tournament two weeks away in Belgrade.
Columbia Falls’ only loss this season has been to Class AA power Missoula Sentinel, 45-28, last month. The Wildcats dispatched Dillon 61-45 in the other Western A semifinal.
Butte Central scrapped with Frenchtown through the early part of the first quarter and even trailed 6-4 after the Broncs’ Emilie Hinrichs posted up for a jumper with 6 minutes, 5 seconds left.
The game was pretty much colored Maroon the rest of the way. Kloie Thatcher put BC ahead for good with her first of five 3-point baskets, then nailed her second trey the next trip down on her way to a 20-point performance.
Butte Central led 17-8 by the time the end of the frame arrived and expanded the command to 25-11 the first five minutes of the second quarter. Thatcher scored from all over, and top substitutes Kate Ossello and Taylor Wahl, usually in for their defense, each canned a jumper.
By halftime, it was a 32-15 difference as Mollie Peoples caged four straight free throws, the result of being fouled, then the violator, Alivia Williams, spiking the ball too hard for the officials’ liking and awarding technical freebies.
“It was good to have them come out and play like they did tonight,” Meg Murphy, head coach of the Maroons, said. “I can’t say enough about how well they played, defensively. We knew we’d have to play man-to-man and the Butte High game (a 47-40 BC win two weeks ago) was the first time we’ve had to play man-to-man for a whole game. Now, these first two games of the tournament, we’ve had to do it again.”
Butte Central grew its 32-15 lead to a 37-16 spread as Thatcher continued to drain 3s in the third quarter. Lexi Statelin sank a free throw for Frenchtown before the Maroons tore a 15-0 tear on the way to a 22-3 romp to the end of the frame. Thatcher buried three treys in the spree, Sierra Pica scored from inside off a pass from Emily St. John, Ossello tallied on a steal and layup, and St. John drove the baseline for a hoop in the 15-0 surge. The quarter ended with BC’s lead at 59-20.
“Kloie just lit it up,” Murphy said. “Then, Mollie, who struggled a little bit early in the game, started going off and St. John started going off.
“We were more relaxed today. First games, there are more nerves. We came out with a lot of fire today. Offensively, we can score, but defensively, we’ve been doing a tremendous job.”
Murphy subbed liberally the last quarter which went quickly, due to Butte Central opening a 41-point lead, 61-20, as Kailee Murphy took an over-the-top pass from Pica in the high post to the hoop for a layup. The bucket notched the first points of the final frame and started the clock on continuous run by the 40-point difference rule.
Coach Murphy pointed to the play of the bench as providing quite a bit of help in the win.
“Ossello hit a huge shot and Wahl hit a huge shot,” she said. “The defense that Ossello plays is great. Then, little (Tricia) Joyce helped us out, too.”
The Broncs’ inside game was pretty good on the boards vying against Butte Central’s good post play.
“Their posts were a little quicker than we thought,” coach Murphy said.
Peoples finished with 14 points, Pica with nine, Murphy six, Ossello four, Wahl and Megan Michelotti three apiece, and St. John and Joyce with two each. Olivia Bolton and Bella Sorini also played.
Columbia Falls will present a little different kind of lineup than the Maroons are used to facing in that its overall height is more of a challenge than most teams go up against.
“Columbia Falls is athletic with big posts,” coach Murphy said, adding that 5-11 Wildcat junior Peyton Kehr is a good shooter.
Hinrichs led Frenchtown with eight points. Other scorers for the Broncs were Calliana Bagnell with four points, Megan Dulaney, Kylie Willett, Sydney Channer and Adeline Richardson with three points each, and Williams and Allison Hochhalter with two points apiece. Jordan Cole and Dana Jacobs also played.
Technical difficulties with equipment prevented final stats to be officially completed.
The Broncs will play Corvallis in a loser-out game Saturday at 9:45 a.m. at the Maroon Activities Center for a spot in the consolation final set for 4:45 p.m. at the Civic Center. Hamilton plays Dillon in the other loser-out, at 9:45 a.m. at the Civic Center. The Saturday morning winners will also capture berths in the state tournament.