Hellgate Knights start fast, take down Bulldogs

By Bruce Sayler 

Missoula Hellgate must have caught fire on its bus ride to Butte for its Saturday boys’ basketball game. 

The undefeated Knights scored the first 21 points of the Western AA Conference contest on the way to an 81-46 victory over the Bulldogs in Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym. 

West Point-bound Abe Johnson, listed at 6-foot-8 on the Hellgate roster, poured in 18 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots to lead the Knights to their ninth straight win. Utah State commit Rollie Worster tallied 18 points before fouling out late in the game. 

“They reminded why they’re the No. 1 team in the state,” Butte High head coach Matt Luedtke said. “They’re a phenomenal team, they play hard and have all you need. They played harder than we did. Hopefully, we’ll be ready for them the next time we play them.” 

Worster lit the fuse with a baseline drive for the first basket of the game. Butte High couldn’t score and had trouble keeping possession against the tall, athletic and talented Knights. Worster fed Josh Wade for the next basket and then Johnson scored on back-to-back possessions with drive and a short turnaround jumper. 

Beckett Arthur and Worster connected on consecutive 3-point baskets, then Johnson hooped a free throw and Hellgate, last year’s state Class AA runner-up, was leading 17-0. The 21-0 run concluded on a pullup jumper by Brandon Coladonato and a runner by Worster. 

Tommy Mellott sank a foul shot to get Butte High on the board with 1 minute, 44 seconds left in the first quarter. It was 28-3 at quarter’s end. The halftime difference was 42-17 with the Knights closing the half on a 7-0 spree capped by the 6-3 Worster on a driving layup. 

Hellgate was 12-for-16 from the field in the first quarter, 18-for-35 for the half and 34-for-60 for the game – 57 percent. The Knights were good on seven of 13 tries from 3-point range. Their defense limited Butte High to 26 percent shooting from the floor and prevented almost all Butte High feeds to the inside. Hellgate dominated the boards by a 51-21 margin in rebounds. The Bulldogs tried to combat from outside and did mesh 11 shots from 3-point range — five by Kenley Leary, who came off the bench to lead the team with 17 points.

“We’re still trying to find that level where we need to compete,” Luedtke said. “That’s (the Knights’ status) where we hope to be.” 

Luedtke grinned and added: “Tommy got his first 3 – that was awesome.” 

Mellott, the only returning senior starter, missed the pre-Christmas part of the season recovering from a football-related shoulder injury. His return hadn’t included a made trey until he cast off from about halfcourt at the halftime buzzer and the ball whipped through the net. 

Both Mellott and 6-8 junior Jake Olson found themselves in early foul trouble, causing them some time on the bench, which was certainly of no advantage for the Bulldogs. Olson’s absence was partly caused by Johnson’s play and the Hellgate senior then capitalized on the Butte High post’s absence when the fouls became problematic. 

“Tommy is so athletic and plays so hard that he can sometimes keep playing in foul trouble,” Luedtke said. “But with Jake’s position, it’s a little different and that hurt us when he had to come out. Their (more probable) 6-10 player (Johnson) was really dominant and they’re big inside. He’s intimidating.” 

Mellott was next-high with eight. Blake Drakos and Andrew Booth finished with six points each, Cael Stenson three, Olson, Mikey O’Dell and Dillon Ferry two each, and Ryan Burt, Eric Loos and Cole Stewart also played. The loss put Butte High at 3-7 for the season, 2-4 in conference. The Bulldogs will play at conference rival Missoula Big Sky next Thursday in their next game. 

Hellgate, now 5-0 in the Western AA, placed four players in double figures as Cam LaRance finished with 16 points and Arthur with 12—on 4-for-4 shooting from 3-point distance —  to back the 18 points each from Johnson and Worster. 

MISSOULA HELLGATE (9-0, 5-0) — Cam LaRance 6-11 3-3 16, Beckett Arthur 4-5 0-0 12, Josh Wade 2-3 0-0 5, Rollie Worster 8-15 1-3 18, Abe Johnson 8-11 2-4 18, Wes Salonen 2-4 0-0 4, Brandon Coladonato 1-1 0-0 2, Kade McWilliams 0-3 0-0 0, Aidan Gilham 1-3 0-0 2, Ian Finch 1-3 0-0 2, Brogan Callaghan 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 34-60 6-11 81. 

BUTTE HIGH (3-7, 2-4) — Blake Drakos 2-7 0-0 6, Tommy Mellott 2-6 3-4 8, Cael Stenson 1-10 0-0 3, Andrew Booth 2-8 0-0 6, Jake Olson 0-3 2-4 2, Ryan Burt 0-0 0-0 0, Kenley Leary 5-11 2-2 17, Mikey O’Dell 1-6 0-1 2, Dillon Ferry 1-1 0-0 2, Eric Loos 0-0 0-0 0, Cole Stewart 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-53 7-11 46. 

Hellgate          28          14          25          14 – 81 

Butte High       3           14          19           10 — 46 

3-point goals – Hellgate 7-13 (LaRance 1-2, Arthur 4-4, Wade 1-2, Worster 1-3, Gilham 0-1, Finch 0-1), Butte 11-34 (Drakos 2-5, Mellott 1-3, Stenson 1-6, Booth 2-6, Leary 5-11, O’Dell 0-3). Fouled out – Worster. Total fouls – Hellgate 13, Butte 11. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Hellgate 51 (Johnson 13, LaRance 7, Arthur 7), Butte 21 (Stenson 6). Blocks – Hellgate 4 (Johnson 4), Butte 1 (Olson). Assists – Hellgate 13 (Worster 5), Butte 7 (Mellott 4). Turnovers – Hellgate 9, Butte 11.