By Bruce Sayler
Exhaustion is a thick wall to try to play through, but the Butte High boys gave it a courageous try.
The Bulldogs blitzed Bozeman High for an early lead before the Hawks went ahead at the end of the third quarter and pulled away to a 77-63 first-round win over Butte High Thursday.
The game was in the opening round of the state Class AA high school boys’ basketball tournament being played in the Butte Civic Center through Saturday night. The loss sends the Bulldogs to a 10:30 a.m. Friday elimination game against Bozeman Gallatin. Bozeman High advances to the Friday 5 p.m. semifinals against Missoula Hellgate. Hellgate defeated Gallatin 63-57 in the first round.
“We played so hard and we had a lot of exhaustion,” Butte High head coach Matt Luedtke said. “We ran out of gas a little bit.
“It was too bad because the Butte crowd really came out and supported us. But, our kids played hard the whole way. We thought we could win it and our kids came out playing to win.”
The Bulldogs bolted into both halves with fierce intent. They ran out to a 6-0 start on the Hawks as Jonas Sherman stuck back a rebound after Jace Stenson blocked a shot on Bozeman’s first possession, Hudson Luedtke sped coast-to-coast for a layup on a steal and Stenson notched two free throws after being fouled on a fast break fed him by Hudson Luedtke.
Bozeman never caught up until Quaid Ash canned the first to two consecutive 3-point baskets that tied the score at 53-all and sent the Hawks ahead 56-53 at the end of the third quarter. Bozeman sizzled for 29 third-quarter points.
Butte High had owned leads of 20-12 after one quarter and 34-27 at halftime. The Bulldogs’ biggest lead was 15 points, 34-19, after two more Stenson-made foul shots with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first half.
The breakneck speed aroused the crowd and inspired the team, but wasn’t able to gas the deep and talented Hawks team.
“They’re a perennial state tournament team,” coach Luedtke said. “They played for the state championship (losing to Helena Capital) last year. They’re really deep, and they’re big and strong. We couldn’t match their toughness and shooting in the second half.”
Bozeman cut into the Bulldogs’ opening spree by closing to within 11-9 on a give-and-go Kellen Harrison executed from Kash Embry. Butte High responded with a 9-3 surge, freshman Hudson Luedtke scoring five of the points, and led 20-12.
The Bulldogs outscored the Hawks 14-7 the first 4 ½ minutes of the second period, but Stenson went to the bench with his third foul and Bozeman ended the half on an 8-0 run.
The teams traded runs to launch the third quarter. Butte High’s was 9-3 for a 43-30 margin as Stenson capped it with a 3-pointer after Gurnsey started it with an electric steal and dunk. Stenson, however, picked up his fourth foul shortly after the burst and was absent from the floor for the rest of the frame.
In the meantime, Bozeman scored nine straight points, led by Embry to shoot back into the contest. A 3-pointer by Casey Merrifield and basket by Cameron Gurnsey allowed the Bulldogs to retain a 53-48 edge until Rocky Lencioni scored on a left-handed catapult fling over his head in the key, and Ash drained his pair of 3s.
Merrifield’s grandfather was honored with a moment of silence before the game tip-off. Charlie Merrifield, coaching legend at Butte High, died Sunday at 90 years of age.
Hudson Luedtke meshed two charity tosses at 7:11 of the fourth quarter to bring his team back to within one point of the lead. Harrison answered with a fast-break layup for the Hawks and then Stenson fouled out on a charging call assessed him crossing the paint under basket on the baseline.
Harrison caged a 3-pointer on the other end of the court and, then, after freshman Cayde Stajcar scored a mid-range jumper for Butte High, stretched the strings with another 3-ball and the Haws were slinging heat.
They outscored the worn Bulldogs 13-6 the last 4:13 of the game, including a 9-0 run that put the game away.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Matt Luedtke said. “We were great in the first half and Bozeman really shot the ball in the second half. I thought we did a pretty good job on defense, too.”
The Hawks shot 48 percent for the game, 61 percent in the second half. They were 58 percent from 3-point range, 41 percent for the game.
The win gave Bozeman a 18-3 season record. The Hawks, ranked No. 1 in Class AA much of the season, are in the tourney as the Eastern AA Divisional runner-up, having lost to Billings West.
Four players scored in double figures for Bozeman in its win over Butte High. Embry led the way with 20 points, Harrison scored 17, Lencioni had 12 and Luke Smith 11. Jake Casagranda yanked down 14 rebounds. Lencioni also came up with five steals.
Butte High will take a 12-11 ledger into the Friday loser-outs. Hudson Luedtke led the Bulldogs Thursday with 16 points and Stenson finished with 15 despite fouling out with 6:27 still left in the game.
Gurnsey scored nine points, Merrifield had six, Sherman and Demarais each tallied four, Tocher Lee netted a 3-pointer, and Dylan “Bobby” Bache, Stajcar and Rueso Batterman each notched two points. Garrett Sharp, Colton Shea and Torre Tempel also played.
Gurnsey led the Bulldogs on the boards with six rebounds.
“It was a disappointing end to a great start,” coach Luedtke said. “We were tired.
“Jace played a great game offensively and it killed us not having him in there (after he fouled out). We can still go out and get a third-place trophy. Since I’ve been here, our teams have bounced back the next day after a loss at tournament. Hopefully, we can come back and do it tomorrow.”
BUTTE HIGH (12-11) – Cameron Gurnsey 3-12 3-5 9, Jonas Sherman 2-3 0-0 4, Casey Merrifield 2-9 0-0 6, Hudson Luedtke 5-12 4-4 16, Jace Stenson 5-8 2-3 15, Garrett Sharp 0-0 0-0 0, Dylan Bache 1-3 0-0 2, Tocher Lee 1-4 0-0 3, Colton Shea 0-0 0-0 0, Cayde Stajcar 1-2 0-2 2, Torre Tempel 0-0 0-0 0, Bo Demarais 1-1 2-2 4, Rueso Batterman 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 21-55 13-18 63.
BOZEMAN HIGH (18-3) – Kellen Harrison 7-17 0-2 17, Kash Embry 6-8 5-6 20, Rocky Lencioni 5-12 1-1 12, Jake Casagranda 1-5 2-4 4, Luke Smith 3-5 5-7 11, Braxton Black 0-0 0-0 0, Keith Applebee 0-0 0-0 0, Joey Starner 0-0 0-0 0, Chapman Wiehardt 1-3 0-0 3, Torin Jeske 0-0 0-0 0, Connor Nye 1-1 0-0 2, Quaid Ash 3-5 0-0 8. Totals 27-56 13-20 77.
Butte High 15 19 19 10 – 63
Bozeman 12 15 29 21 – 77
3-point goals – Butte High 8-24 (Gurnsey 0-4, Merrifield 2-9, Luedtke 2-3, Stenson 3-4, Lee 1-4), Bozeman 10-24 (Harrison 3-11, Embry 3-3, Lencioni 1-5, Wiehardt 1-2, Ash 2-3). Fouled out – Stenson. Total fouls — Butte 17, Bozeman 21. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Butte 25 (Gurnsey 6), Bozeman 44 (Casagranda 14, Smith 9, Lencioni 6). Blocks – Butte 1 (Stenson), Bozeman 0. Assists – Butte 4 (Luedtke 3), Bozeman 4 (Harrison 2). Steals – Butte 6 (Sherman 1, Merrifield 1, Luedtke 1, Bache 1, Tempel 1, Demarais 1). Turnovers – Butte 12, Bozeman 14.
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