By Bill Foley
Fan after fan was in agreement as the crowd paraded out of Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Gymnasium Tuesday night.
That was the best volleyball match they had ever seen.
The No. 5-ranked Bozeman Hawks barely escaped town with a 26-24, 25-27, 25-27, 33-31, 15-10 Eastern AA victory over Butte High.
“That was exciting. That was really fun,” Butte High coach Jeni Hope said moments after the loss. “This is the best team by far we’ve played. This is the best I’ve seen them play. The fact that they are going to the competition … what more do you want? They play up to it. I’m thrilled for them.”
The game of the night was the fourth-set battle that both sides absolutely refused to lose.
Butte High, which fell to 9-15 overall and 4-7 in conference, served on match point six times in that set. Bozeman (20-7, 9-2) matched each time, and the Hawks served game point two times before Mara Lynch put the win away with a thunderous spike.
After the Hawks came back from a 17-14 deficit to knot the set at 18, the Bulldogs and Hawks found themselves deadlocked in a tie nine different times before it was settled.
“We were out of subs,” Hope said. “We ran out of subs at 18, and we did a full rotation back to normal with our (defensive specialist) playing outside hitter and a setter playing right-side blocking. Maddie’s 5-foot, Devin’s 5-foot. That they overcame that and still played like that is pretty unbelievable.”
The coach was referring to seniors Maddie Worley and Devin Amtmann. For the record, Worley is listed at 5-4, while Amtmann is 5-2.
“These kids don’t have any quit,” Hope said. “They believed until that last point — even at 14-10 — that we were going to win. I know they did. That’s just who we are. That’s really huge.”
After four sets, the Bulldogs and Hawks headed to the tiebreaker tied with 109 points apiece on the night.
The Hawks never trailed in the fifth set, pulling away for the victory.
The night began with an emotional ceremony honoring the seniors — Brittney Tierney is the other senior — and their parents. Not even the nail-biting defeat could put a damper on the night for the Bulldogs.
Butte High, which closes the regular season Friday at Billings Senior, heads to the playoffs with some mojo their side.
As the likely No. 5 seed, Butte High will play a playoff match on the road. If Tuesday is any indication, nobody wants any part of the Bulldogs.
“I think that was a really important game for us, to not give up and keep clawing point by point,” Hope said. “You get better when you play games like that.”
Lynch had a monster set to help the Hawks pick up the win. The 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter smacked 20 kill. Sasha Hathaway, a 6-foot junior, added 18 kills, while 6-2 sophomore Jo Jo Radick killed 14.
The Bulldogs got contributions from up and down their lineup. Kira Mortensen and Emma Field, Butte High’s 6-2 juniors, each smacked 13 kills to lead the Bulldogs.
Mortensen also led the match in shiners. She’ll likely have a pair of them when she heads to school in the morning.
Mortensen hit the floor face first — and the quick safety timeout call by the officials actually cost the Bulldogs a point — with Butte High leading the fourth set 18-17.
“But she came right back in,” Hope pointed out.
She was also a force for Butte High in that riveting set, too.
Cameron LaFond tallied five kills, while Kennadie McMahon killed five. Brooke McGrath, Grace McGrath, MaKenna Carpenter, Amtmann and MacKenzie Tutty also got in on kills.
Maddie Worley (19 assists) and Grace McGrath (16) ran the Bulldog offense, while Amtmann led the backcourt with 22 digs. Amtmann also served three aces. Grace McGrath and Trisha Ericson each served three.
Tierney and Worley each dug 14, while Ericson dug 11.
“They rise to the occasion,” Hope said of her Bulldogs. “We talk a lot about that at practice, about being fearless and not thinking about anything but right now. If you’re down by one or if you’re up by five, you play every single ball the same.”
The Bulldogs did that Tuesday night. Their fans, the Hawks, and possibly the rest of the Class AA took notice.
Bozeman def. Butte High 26-24, 25-27, 25-27, 33-31, 15-10
Kills — Bozeman 70 (Mara Lynch 20, Sasha Hathaway 18, Jo Jo Radick 14), Butte 45 (Kira Mortensen 13, Emma Field 13, Cameron LaFond 6, Kennadie McMahon 5, Brooke McGrath 2, Devin Amtmann 2, MaKenna Carpenter 2, Grace McGrath 1, MacKenzie Tutty 1). Assists — Bozeman 65 (Emma Fox 64), Butte 37 (Maddie Worley 19, Grace McGrath 16, Amtmann 1, Mortensen 1). Blocks — Bozeman 7 (Radick 6, Hathaway 4, Lynch 3), Butte 13 (Mortensen 4, Field 3.5, Carpenter 2, McMahon 1.5, Tutty 1, Brooke McGrath .5, LaFond .5). Aces — Bozeman 6 (Lynch 2), Butte 12 (Amtmann 4, Grace McGrath 3, Trisha Ericson 3, Mortensen 1, Carpenter 1). Digs — Bozeman 100 (Ayla Embry 33, Lynch 30), Butte 74 (Amtmann 22, Brittney Tierney 14, Worley 14, Ericson 11, LaFond 4, Grace McGrath 4, Mortensen 2, McMahon 1, Carpenter 1, Tutty 1).