By Bill Foley
Butte High’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are heading to Great Falls hoping to party like it’s 2013.
The combined Eastern AA Divisional tournament begins Thursday at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls, and both Butte High teams are looking to book a trip to state for the first time in six years.
The top four teams from each tournament move on to next week’s Class AA State tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
The Bulldogs will play a doubleheader on the opening day. Butte High’s girls play Billings Skyview at 3:30 p.m., while the boys take on Bozeman at 5. (Brackets)
All Butte High games will be carried live on KBOW (550 AM, 101.5 FM, online or on the KBOW app).
Butte High’s girls’ just completed the team’s best regular season since 2013. Butte High went 14-4 overall and 10-2 in conference play to secure the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Top-seeded Billings West, whose lone conference loss came to Butte High at the Civic Center, earned a first-round bye.
The Butte-Skyview winner will play the winner of the 6:30 p.m. game between Great Falls Russell (2-16, 1-11) and Bozeman (12-6, 9-3).
West awaits the winner of the 12:30 p.m. game between Great Falls High (6-12) and Billings Senior (5-13).
Skyview comes into the tournament as the No. 7 team in the seven-team tournament at 1-17 and 1-11.
Butte High smoked the Falcons in both regular-season meetings. Butte High won 50-23 Jan. 18 in Butte and 57-34 Feb. 15 in Billings.
Brooke Berry, a 5-foot-11 freshman leads the Falcons. She averages 11.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Berry tossed in 15 points in the last meeting with the Bulldogs.
Kinsey Frost, a 5-9 senior, adds 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game for the Falcons, whose lone win came last Friday at home against CMR.
Seniors Aspen Lovshin, Ally Cleverly, Brittney Tierney and Justise Birkenbuel lead the veteran Bulldogs into action. Cleverly and Tierney have been varsity contributors for four seasons. Lovshin and Birkenbuel have been for three.
Cleverly averages 14.6 points and 4.1 assists per game to lead the Bulldogs. Her and Lovshin, who averages 13.1 points and 2.54 assists, both connected on 34 attempts from behind the 3-point line.
Tierney, an All-State player as a junior, averages 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. Junior Haley Herron, who has contributed since her freshman campaign, adds 5.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. Herron scored a season-best 17 points the last time the Bulldogs played Skyview.
Along with Birkenbuel, junior Makenna Carpenter is a force for the Bulldogs, who have played most of the season without injured post Kira Mortensen.
Juniors Trisha Ericson and Grace McGrath and sophomores MacKenzie Tutty and McCaul McCarthy have also contributed off the bench this season.
On the boys’ side, the Bulldogs are trying to erase a disappointing regular season.
Butte High (4-14, 1-11) knocked off Billings Senior (2-16, 2-10) in a 72-65 double-overtime thriller Friday night in Billings to close the regular season on a high note.
Junior Tommy Mellott came off the bench to score a career-high 28 points on 10 for 13 shooting to lead the Bulldogs. (Note: initial game stats had Mellott scoring 27, which was reported.)
Senior, though, upset Bozeman in Billings the next day, making Butte High the No. 7 seed.
Bozeman (13-5, 8-4) is the No. 2 seed. The Hawks swept the regular-season series with the Bulldogs, winning 78-39 Jan. 29 in Bozeman and 61-46 last Feb. 19 in Butte.
Ryan Lonergan, a 6-5 senior, averages 14.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game to lead the Hawks, who have been playing without injured Ryan Simpson. Simpson broke his wrist in the first meeting with Butte High.
Carter Ash, a 5-10 junior, adds 11.9 points, 5.0 bards and 3.2 assists to the Bozeman lineup.
Clay Ferguson, one of six seniors on the Bulldog roster, averages 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game to lead Butte High. Senior Danny McCloskey averages 10.9 points, while senior Trevyn Roth, Butte’s best 3-point threat, scores 8.6 points per game.
Mellott averages 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds, while senior Kash Kelly, who has 79 varsity games and 56 starts under his belt, adds 5.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Kelly leads the Class AA in assists over the last four seasons.
Senior Kale McCarthy is a key contributor with 4.7 points and 3.2 boards per game, while 6-6 sophomore Jake Olson is an emerging force for the Bulldogs.
Senior Jake Vetter also sees time for the Bulldogs. Juniors Michael Phillips, Andrew Booth and Ryan Burt and sophomores Billy Kelly, Zach Merrifield, Ryan Neil, Cael Stenson and Aidan Lee also saw varsity action for Butte High in the regular season.
Great Falls High (15-3, 10-2) is the top seed. The Bison earned a first-round bye and will take on the winner of the 2 p.m. game between CMR (12-6, 7-5) and Billings Skyview (10-8, 6-6).