By Bruce Sayler
Matt Luedtke sat at his desk in his office and stared at his cell phone while replaying the video from the last few seconds of the game just completed Thursday night.
An at-the-buzzer tip in by Helena High freshman Jaxan Lieberg gave the Bengals a 75-73 Western AA Conference high school boys’ basketball win over Butte High. Luedtke’s office is located several feet and a couple of highways away from the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym, scene of the last varsity boys’ basketball game to be played at Butte High School this season.
Luedtke is the head coach of the Bulldogs. He had just helped rally his team from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to a 32-point period and pondered and wondered how he could’ve squeezed a couple more seconds or a sixth minute from the furious surge that almost snatched the win away from Helena.
“Jace (Stenson) blocked his man out and our two guys on the other side (of the key) had their guys blocked,” Luedtke said, shaking his head and looking bewildered. “And, the rebound fell right into his (Lieberg’s) hands. Just bad luck.
“I really didn’t think we deserved to win the game. We played hard for only five minutes. Hats off to our guys for playing hard those five minutes. I was really disappointed with our effort in the first, second and third quarters. And, we had a solid start – got out to a 10-5 lead.”
Helena High owned a 53-41 lead going into the fourth quarter. A 7-4 run grew it to 60-45, the largest spread of the contest, with 5 minutes, 53 seconds left. Kaden Huot, who notched game-highs of 20 points and 13 rebounds on the night, tallied five of the points in the Bengals’ run.
Cameron Gurnsey then gunned in a 3-pointer for Butte High. It started the comeback.
After Cael Murgel dropped in two free throws for Helena High, the Bulldogs went on a 5-0 spree as Stenson drove for a hoop off a pass from Kenley Leary, Gurnsey sank two foul shots and Tocher Lee netted one charity toss.
The Butte High deficit was in single digits, for a moment. The teams traded points to70-61 and then Leary scorched the strings for back-to-back 3-pointers. Stenson added a freebie, then scored off a Leary pass and the difference had been cut to two points, 72-70, with a minute to play.
Helena High had lost starters Dylan Christman and Tevin Wetzel to foul-outs.
Lieberg caged a free throw. Gurnsey’s 3-pointer attempt at the other end was off, but Kooper Klobucar rebounded for Butte High. He was fouled by Cael Murgel and hooped a foul shot. Gurnsey then stole the ball and raced for a game-tying layup with 16 seconds on the clock.
The Bengals inbounded the ball and left it in Huot’s hands. The 6-foot-4 football quarterback signed to played for Montana melted seconds off the clock until hoisting a shot about seconds before the buzzer. It fell off the rim. Lieberg leaped at the hoop and tapped the miss through the hole just as the horn sounded.
Helena players mobbed Lieberg.
“Cam Gurnsey had that steal and it was a big play,” Luedtke said. “We had five kids score in double figures. Koop had another good game, Kenley came to life and got some shots to go. Jace started to be aggressive again and it was nice to get him back. He’s been in a kind of a funk.
“The last five minutes, we were aggressive, going to the basket. When we play team basketball at both ends of the court, we’re pretty damn good.”
Helena High scored first in the game as Wetzel, another freshman and a nephew of Butte High assistant coach Shawn Wetzel, knocked down a 3-pointer 38 seconds into the game. Butte High responded with 3-pointers by Gurnsey and Leary and rebound bucket by Bo Demarais. The Bulldogs had an 8-3 advantage. Christman scored from the paint for the Bengals, then Leary drove with a Stenson pass and the margin was 10-5 at 4:32 of the first quarter.
Helena High ran off the next six points, four by Christman and two by Colter Petre, for an 11-10 edge and never trailed again. The run continued to 17-10, a 12-0 total surge, and held a 19-12 lead after the first period.
At halftime, it was 35-27.
“We didn’t have five guys together until they were fighting together at the end,” Luedtke said. “Obviously, (the Bengals) have a bundle of talent, but we didn’t have the effort for the whole game. We had two seniors (Klobucar and Leary) playing their last game in Richardson Memorial and we didn’t have the kind of effort you’d expect. At the end, maybe we finally had a sense of urgency. If I knew what (brought the sense of urgency at the end), I’d make a million dollars (selling it). Hopefully, our guys can take that last five minutes, bottle it up and come back out with it on Saturday.”
The Bulldogs close the regular season on Saturday at Helena Capital. They will take records of 4-13 overall and 4-9 I conference into the game. Butte High’s leaders Thursday night were Leary with 18 points, Gurnsey with 15, Stenson with 14, Klobucar with 12 and Lee with 10. Leary and Klobucar each pulled down seven rebounds and the 6-6 Klobucar blocked two shots. Leary dished five assists. Four 3-pointers accounted for most of his points.
Demarais and Jonas Sherman each scored two points, and Rueso Batterman also saw time on the floor. Butte High shooters arced in 10 shots from 3-point range.
Helena High is 7-10 overall and 6-7 in league games. Huot, son of former Anaconda and Oregon State football star Tony Huot, was joined as Bengal leaders by Lieberg with 14 points, Murgel with 12 points and Christman with 10.
HELENA HIGH (7-10, 6-7) — Kade Schlepp 1-3 0-0 2, Kaden Huot 5-11 8-9 20, Colter Petre 4-10 0-2 9, Dylan Christman 4-6 2-3 10, Tevin Wetzel 2-5 0-0 6, Cael Murgel 5-7 2-2 12, Jaxan Lieberg 4-7 5-6 14, Carson Anderson 1-1 0-0 2, Gavin Thennis 0-0 0-0 0, Lukas Olson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-50 17-22 75.
BUTTE HIGH (4-13, 4-9) — Jace Stenson 4-14 5-8 14, Cameron Gurnsey 4-13 5-5 15, Kenley Leary 6-15 2-2 18, Bo Demarais 1-6 0-0 2, Kooper Klobucar 4-4 3-5 12, Jonas Sherman 1-1 0-0 2, Tocher Lee 3-6 2-5 10, Rueso Batterman 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-61 17-25 73.
Helena High 19 16 18 22 — 75
Butte High 12 15 14 32 — 73
3-point goals – Helena 6-19 (Schlepp 0-1, Huot 2-4, Petre 1-6, Wetzel 2-3, Murgel 0-3, Lieberg 1-2), Butte High 10-30 (Stenson 1-4, Gurnsey 2-7, Leary 4-10, Demarais 0-2, Klobucar 1-1, Lee 2-5, Batterman 0-1). Fouled out – Christman, Wetzel. Total fouls – Helena High 20, Butte High 15. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Helena High 39 (Huot 13, Christman 7), Butte High 28 (Leary 7, Klobucar 7, Stenson 6). Blocks – Helena High 0, Butte High 2 (Klobucar 2). Assists – Helena High 14 (Schlepp 4), Butte High 14 (Leary 5, Stenson 4). Steals – Helena High 8 (Petre 4), Butte High 8 (Gurnsey 2, Stenson 2, Lee 2). Turnovers – Helena High 20, Butte High 12.