Defending champ Lewistown denies Butte Central in State semis

By Bruce Sayler

Defense was the test and Lewistown’s graded out a tad higher in the Eagles’ Friday afternoon semifinal round game with Butte Central.
Lewistown held the Maroons to 13 second-half points while storming past them to a 48-39 win in the state Class A high school boys’ basketball tournament at the Butte Civic Center. The victory gives the Eagles the chance to defend their title won last year against Dillon and avenges a championship game loss to Butte Central in 2022 and also a 57-37 defeat at the hands of the Maroons on this season’s opening weekend last December.
Now, the BC boys will play a Saturday 9 a.m. loser-out game against Billings Central at the Maroon Activities Center with the winner to go on to the 3:30 third-place game.
Lewistown will be making a third straight State A championship game appearance. The title tilt tipoff is slated for a 6:30 tipoff. It will be a rematch. The Eagles are going to play Dillon, who they topped 54-47 in last year’s State A championship contest. Dillon won Friday’s other semifinal by a 59-51 count over Hamilton.
“They played really good defense and we knew that they would going in,” BC head coach Brodie Kelly said of Friday’s loss to the Eagles. “They built a wall out at the top of their zone with not a lot of room to go. Then, the third quarter changed everything. I’d have to look at the film (for confirmation) but I think we had a lot of turnovers.
“We knew their zone is what we would see the most of and we did a pretty good job on it in the first half. But we got a little bit away from that in the second half. In hindsight, that was a bad decision.”
The Eagles’ explosive third quarter turned the game around. They scored the first 11 points of the second half and wiped out the 26-15 Butte Central lead. It was a balanced effort. Trajan Sparks, Kieran Netburn, Wylee Snapp and Brody Jenness all had points in the run.
The third quarter ended in a 31-all knot before Lewistown took the lead for good with a 5-0 surge to start the fourth. Maxx Ray, Jennes and Netburn all tallied in the breakaway.
A basket by Owen McPartland took the Maroons to their smallest deficit, 37-34, after the Eagles had taken control. A Netburn basket off a spin move and then a free throw by Jennes widened the gap again. Lewistown sank just enough free throws down the end stretch to win while BC desperation attempts repeatedly missed.
Butte Central’s last points were on a 3-ball with 41 second remaining for a five-point difference, 44-39. The Maroons were unable to convert any further.
The game started with an 11-0 BC run as Jack Keeley was on fire. He scored the first nine points of the contest with 3-pointers and Joshua Sutton added a drive to the basket. Lewistown ended the quarter on a 7-0 surge to narrow the gap.
Freshman GG Fantini rained in two 3-pointers and Keeley knocked down another to go with two layups as Butte Central cranked its lead back to 26-15 at halftime. Lewistown had struggled against the Maroons’ rigid man-to-man defense and BC was on its way to a game-high eight 3-point baskets.
The bigger, powerfully built senior-laden physical Eagles, though, forced their intent after intermission.
“I’m really proud of our guys and their efforts,” Kelly said. “We played relentless defense and did a good job on offense.
“I don’t think I did a very good coaching them this game.”
The young, smallish BC boys, at 18-5 for the season with Saturday yet to play, seemed to have exceeded many expectations. Kelly isn’t buying it.
“Possibly,” he barely conceded a little, “but I feel we had enough skill and firepower to win this game.
“Give Lewistown credit for the way they defended.”
Keeley finished with 21 points and McPartland with 10 to lead Butte Central. Fantini had six points and Sutton two. Ryan Peoples, Zane Moodry, Patrick Stimatz and Parker Robertson also played several minutes. Keeley collected eight rebounds to go with his 21 points and showed no signs of feeling pain from an ankle he rolled in Thursday’s win over Glendive. He and Moodry are the only Maroon seniors.
Jenness, a 5-11 guard and one of eight seniors on the Lewistown roster, led the Eagles with 14 points. He was backed by eight points from both 6-3 senior Maxx Ray and Netburn, a 6-1 senior. Jordan Jensen, a 6-2 senior, caged seven. Jenness pulled down six rebounds to lead his team on the boards, too.
BUTTE CENTRAL (18-5) – Joshua Sutton 1-3 0-0 2, Ryan Peoples 0-4 0-0 0, Jack Keeley 7-14 2-2 21, Owen McPartland 3-8 3-5 10, Zane Moodry 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick Stimatz 0-0 0-0 0, GG Fantini 2-4 0-0 6, Parker Robertson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 13-34 5-7 39.
LEWISTOWN (12-11) – Brody Jenness 3-7 7-9 14, Trajan Sparks 1-5 3-5 5, Maxx Ray 3-7 2-2 8, Wylee Snapp 1-4 0-0 2, Kieran Netburn 4-5 0-0 8, Kason Brown 1-2 1-2 3, Jordan Jensen 3-6 0-0 7, Sean Zimmer 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 16-37 14-20 48.
Butte Central 11 15 5 8 – 39
Lewistown 7 8 16 17 – 48
3-point goals – Butte Central 8-24 (Peoples 0-4, Keeley 5-10, McPartland 1-5, Fantini 2-4, Robertson 0-1), Lewistown 2-13 (Jenness 1-4, Sparks 0-3, Ray 0-2, Brown 0-1, Jensen 1-2, Zimmer 0-1). Fouled out – none. Total fouls – Butte Central 19, Lewistown 13. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Butte Central 15 (Keeley 8), Lewistown 24 (Jenness 6). Blocks – Butte Central 1 (Keeley), Lewistown 0. Assists – Butte Central 6 (McPartland 3), Lewistown 6 (Ray 3). Steals – Butte Central 2 (Sutton 1, Moodry 1), Lewistown 10 (Ray 6). Turnovers – Butte Central 17, Lewistown 11.