By Bruce Sayler
Missoula Hellgate charred the net strings with five made 3-point shots in seven attempts over the early minutes and were 5-for-10 for the half to build a commanding lead, and position the Knights for a 72-62 win over Butte High Saturday.
The Bulldogs regrouped for a better-played second half, but could not muster enough offense to catch Hellgate in the Western AA Conference high school boys’ basketball game at the Butte Civic Center.
Connor Dick, a 6-foot-4 Hellgate junior, led the way for the Knights as an inside player with perimeter play capabilities (and Butte roots). He scored 14 points, pulled down 13 rebounds, dished five assists and came up with three steals before fouling out late in the game.
The Knights’ offense clicked, evidenced by 21 assists involving six passers and shooting ratios of 25-for-49 from the field, including 8-for-19 from the 3-point arc, and 14-for-20 from the free throw line.
“We’re young and we need to learn how to put two halves together,” Butte High head coach Matt Luedtke said. “This is a fun team to coach when it is playing well. But, we haven’t had a good first half all year.”
Hellgate led the Bulldogs 35-21 at halftime, then weathered a Butte High comeback that cut the difference to less than 10 points in the second half.
“We just dig out of these holes, then do a good job coming back to within striking distance,” Luedtke said, “then we run out of gas.
“We have the guys to be really good. We scored 21 points in the first half and 41 in the second. I chewed on them at halftime and asked them if I need to chew on them before the game.”
Butte High owned a 7-4 edge after Kooper Klobucar scored off a Kenley Leary pass. Hellgate responded with a 16-2 run to close the first quarter, tallying 13 points in a row in an effort spread among the roster, before Cameron Gurnsey interrupted the flurry with a rebound basket for the Bulldogs. A 3-pointer by freshman Easton Sant gave the Knights their 20-9 cushion heading into the second period.
Baskets by Leo Filardi and Asher Topp, the latter on a steal-and-layup, extended the Hellgate run. Klobucar blunted it with a 3-pointer and the Bulldogs kept from falling farther behind.
“They were unbelievable from the 3-point line, early,” Luedtke said. “We didn’t get out on them a couple of times, let them get open, but it wasn’t just one kid, early. It was more like four guys hitting them.”
Sant netted two Hellgate 3-pointers in the first half with Dick, Ian Finch and Filardi each caging one.
Butte High worked its way into the contest in the third quarter and cooled off the Knights’ shooters. An 11-4 run toward the end of the frame, featuring 3-pointers by Gurnsey, Klobucar and Leary, pulled the Bulldogs to within 10 points of the lead. The difference was 51-41 heading to the last quarter.
The gap shrank under 10 late. A drive to the hoop by Jace Stenson whittled the margin to 66-57, then Klobucar took a pass inside from Stenson for a basket and the Bulldogs were only seven points behind, 66-59, with 53 seconds left in the game.
The Bulldogs had to foul to buy time and bargain for scoring opportunities. Hellgate, however, converted. The Knights were 6-for-8 from the foul line in the last 47 seconds to salt away the win. The Bulldogs were in desperation mode on offense and their only points in the stretch came on Leary’s fourth 3-pointer of the game.
“We didn’t shoot well from the free throw line (4-for-7),” Luedtke said, “and if we’d maybe made some, we’d have been playing with a lead. But, we didn’t get to the free throw line much, either. I know (the Knights) shot more free throws than we did. And, I thought they were as physical as we were.”
Eight Hellgate players scored points, but only Dick and Topp were in double figures, with 14 and 12, respectively. The Knights dominated the boards by a 38-20 rebounds margin. Seven of the Knights who played stood 6-2 or taller. Griffin Kinch was the tallest at 6-6. Topp dished a game-high seven assists.
Hellgate is now 4-3 for the season, 2-1 in conference play. Butte High fell to 1-2 and 1-6, and was led by four players scoring in double digits – Klobucar with 16 points, Gurnsey and Leary with 14 apiece and Stenson with 13. Freshman Tocher Lee tossed in five points, and Bo Demarais, Jonas Sherman and Garrett Sharp also played. Gurnsey was a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to play at Missoula Big Sky on Thursday for their next action. Usual starter Casey Merrifield was again missing from the lineup, trying to heal an ankle injury suffered in the December 23 game against Butte Central. He has not been able to play since.
MISSOULA HELLGATE (4-3, 2-1) — Asher Topp 4-6 2-2 12, Dre Bowie 2-5 3-5 8, Griffin Kinch 4-5 1-3 9, Connor Dick 5-13 4-5 14, Ian Finch 2-5 2-2 7, Brogan Callaghan 3-4 2-3 9, Tommy Nilson 0-1 0-0 0, Easton Sant 3-5 0-0 8, Leo Filardi 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 25-49 14-20 72.
BUTTE HIGH (1-6, 1-2) — Jace Stenson 6-16 0-0 13, Cameron Gurnsey 6-6 0-0 14, Kenley Leary 5-13 0-0 14, Bo Demarais 0-3 0-0 0, Kooper Klobucar 6-10 2-4 16, Jonas Sherman 0-0 0-0 0, Tocher Lee 1-3 2-3 5, Garrett Sharp 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-51 4-7 62.
Hellgate 20 15 16 21 — 72
Butte High 9 12 20 21 — 62
3-point goals – Hellgate 8-19 (Topp 2-3, Bowie 1-4, Dick 0-5, Finch 1-1, Callaghan 1-2, Sant 2-2, Filardi 1-2), Butte High 10-21 (Jace Stenson 1-3, Cameron Gurnsey 2-2, Kenley Leary 4-8, Demarais 0-2, Klobucar 2-4, Lee 1-2). Fouled out – Dick, Gurnsey, Demarais). Total fouls – Hellgate 13, Butte High 21. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Hellgate 38 (Dick 13, Finch 7), Butte High 20 (Leary 5). Blocks – none. Assists – Hellgate 21 (Topp 7, Dick 5, Bowie 5), Butte High 12 (Stenson 4, Leary 4, Lee 3). Steals – Hellgate 10 (Topp 4, Dick 3), Butte High 6 (Leary 3, Stenson 2). Turnovers – Hellgate 21, Butte High 14.