By Bruce Sayler
Butte High girls exhausted themselves and found no easy Pickens on the Helena High roster in their state Class AA high school girls’ basketball tournament first-round game Thursday.
University of Montana basketball signee Jamie Pickens, a 6-foot-2 post, scored 25 points and snared eight rebounds as the Bengals moved on to the semifinals with a 56-44 win and 20-2 record. Pickens scored 17 of her points after halftime, at which Helena High held only a 23-19 edge on the game and scrappy Bulldogs. (Stats)
“Our girls left everything out there,” Butte High head coach Maury Cook said afterward in the Butte Civic Center where the tournament is being held through Saturday night. “We’re here to play on Saturday night and that goal is still there.”
The Bulldogs, now 16-6 this successful season, still can play for the third-place trophy on Saturday night, but need to win two loser-out games first, beginning with Friday’s 1:30 tilt against Great Falls High.
Helena High will meet the Great Falls-Capital winner in the Friday 8 p.m. semifinal.
“Defensively, it’s a tough matchup for us in the post,” Cook said of trying to slow Pickens. “Our girls did a nice job, did the best we could do on a great player. She’s a Division I player and she’s going there for a reason.”
Helena High looked like it might get away early. A basket by Abby Marcille and then three free throws made by Paige Aasved gave the Bengals a 12-6 command by the end of the first quarter.
However, the Bulldogs immediately tied the count early in the second period as Aspen Lovshin gunned in a 3-point field goal, then Brittney Tierney stole the ball in the backcourt and fired in another 3.
The teams traded short flurries and Butte High had a lead, 19-17, after a rebound and short jumper by Justise Birkenbuel with 3 minutes, 13 seconds left in the half. Helena High, though, closed the frame on a six-point run that included four charity tosses by Pickens for the 23-19 halftime edge.
Butte High didn’t lead again, but the Bulldogs stayed close the rest of the way. A Lovshin 3-pointer cut Helena High’s lead to 29-27 at 4:36 of the third quarter. Pickens canceled it with a three-point play. The Bengals took a 39-32 spread into the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs fell behind by 10 points in the final period, then fought back to within five, 49-44, after a Tierney 3-pointer and two Haley Herron freebies. The clock showed 2:03 left.
Pickens launched a 3-pointer, then Marcille scored a basket. The last points came on a pair of Vanessa Walsh free throws.
“Brittney shot the heck out of the ball,” Cook said. “Ally (Cleverly) distributed the ball and we rebounded well in the first half, I thought.”
Tierney had a team-high 17 points while going 5-for-6 from deep range. Lovshin had 15 points. The Bulldogs actually out-rebounded the much taller Bengals 24-23 as Tierney chased down six.
“Makenna (Carpenter) and Haley did a good job in the post,” Cook said, “but we got into a little foul trouble. “If a couple of those close shots at the end would’ve fallen for us, we’d have been right in the game.”
Carpenter and Cleverly each finished with four points, and Herron and Birkenbuel had two apiece. Kira Mortensen also played.
Aasved scored 11 points for Helena High.
“Justise and Kira did their part off the bench,” Cook said.
Butte High is playing in its first state girls’ hoops tournament since 2013 and the Bulldogs are playing in it before their hometown fans. They will try to bounce back on Friday and continue their stay in the tourney.
“We have to look to the next game,” Cook said. “The girls really want to play on Saturday night. We have to readjust our goal.”