Maroon boys eye return to State

The game of musical chairs that is the Southwestern A Divisional boys’ basketball tournament opens Thursday at the Maroon Activities Center. (Bracket)

Only two teams move on to the Class A State tournament, which is March 7-9 in Billings, meaning at least one worthy team will have to stay home.

Last year Dillon and Stevensville moved on from Divisionals in Dillon. Butte Central missed State for the first time since Brodie Kelly took over as coach during the 2004-05 season, while the Beavers went on to win the Class A State title at the Butte Civic Center.

Those three teams have separated themselves in the six-team Southwestern A this year, too.

Stevensville (15-3 overall) won the regular season title with a 9-1 record. The Yellowjackets lone loss was an overtime defeat at the hands of Butte Central (12-6) at the MAC.

Dillon (13-4) placed second at 8-2, while Butte Central took third at 7-3. The Maroons split the season series with the Yellowjackets. BC’s other two conference losses were against Dillon.

Stevensville and Dillon receive first-round byes, while the Maroons open the tournament at 8 p.m. Thursday against Corvallis (1-9, 2-16). The winner of the game plays Dillon at 8 p.m. Friday night. BC routed the Blue Devils twice this season.

Hamilton (3-6, 6-10) will play Anaconda (2-8, 2-16) at 2 p.m. Thursday. The winner plays Stevensville at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Following is a quick look at the six teams looking for the two golden tickets to the MetraPark Arena in Billings.

The Yellowjackets come to town with four players averaging in double figures scoring. Jared Schultz leads the way with 13.5 points per game. Sophomore big man Jesse Sims averages 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, while Zach Gavlak adds 11.6 points per game and Kadin Beller scores 10.7. Schultz also averages 4.6 assists per game.

The Beavers have some key members back from last year’s title run. Boyde Jenne averages 12.6 points per game, while Ben Folsom tosses in 12.5. Folsom scored 22 points the last time the Beavers and Maroons met, in a 49-40 beaver win Jan. 31 in Dillon. The Beavers are looking for their fourth State title under coach Terry Thomas since 2007. Dillon also played in the State championship game in 2011.

The Maroons are still trying to wash away the bitter taste of having to watch State at the Civic Center last year. BC won its final two games heading into the tournament. Senior Brady Tippett averages a team-leading 15.3 points per game, and he seems to be playing his best at the end of the season. Tippett scored a career-high 27 points Saturday in Anaconda. Nate Bolstad adds 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Maroons. Kale Guldseth averages 8.4 points per game, while Marcus Ferriter scores 7.8 points to go along with 6.2 rebounds per game. Connor McGree, Danny Peoples, Dalton Sessions and Emmett McCarthy are also key contributors for the hometown boys.

The Broncs were the underdog story last year, shocking highly-talented Corvallis in the first round. This year, the Broncs are trying to take that a step further. No Hamilton player averages in double figures, but the team has four players who average 7.3 points per game or more. Josh Bauder leads the way with 8.7 points per game to lead that balanced Bronc attack. Jesse Bartels averages 8.5 points, while Kameron Kohn adds 8.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Reese Isherwood scores 7.3 points. John Rytler scored 14 points when the Broncs last played at the MAC, in a 54-41 loss to BC in December.

The Copperheads only have two wins under first-year head coach Bill Hill. Both those victories, though, came against Southwestern A opponents. Jackson Wagner averages 9.0 points per game to lead the Copperheads, who gave the Maroons a run for their money Saturday in the Snake Pit. Brandon Fode averages 7.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while Dennis Stanberry scores 7.2 points per game. Caleb Stetzner, a freshman who averages 6.4 points, has had some big-time games for a team that hopes its promising future starts this week.

The Blue Devils were hit hard by graduation last year. When they came to the MAC to play BC on Jan. 12, the Blue Devils left town with a 69-44 loss. Chase Walker, who averages 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds to lead Corvallis, scored in double digits in both games against BC. He scored 12 at the MAC and 17 in a 57-36 home loss on Feb. 9. Jansen Jessop averages 11.4 points and 3.9 assists per game for the Blue Devils. Alma Powell adds 7.4 points.