BILLINGS — The recipe for victory for Butte Central Friday night at the Class A State boys’ basketball tournament wasn’t anything overly complicated.
The Maroons simply outfought the Panthers.
Butte Central advanced to the semifinals — where they’ll meet Billings Central at 8 p.m. Friday — by turning back Belgrade 39-34 in a defensive battle at the Rimrock Auto Arena. (Bracket)
“No game this time of year is going to be easy,” said BC junior guard Kale Guldseth, who scored a team-leading 11 points to help the Maroons reach the semifinals for the sixth time in nine years. “It was pure guts and effort. Knocking down some shots and making plays at the end of the game is what won it for us.”
Guldseth hit Butte Central’s last shot, and it was the team’s biggest. He sank a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left in the game to put the Maroons on top 30-24.
“That shot Kale hit was a big one,” said BC coach Brodie Kelly, who directed the Maroons to State eight times in his nine years at the helm. “It was kind of that little separation that we needed.”
The Maroons squeaked out the win despite hitting only 7 of 12 free tosses in the game’s final 2:09.
“We missed a lot of free throws in the last three minutes,” Kelly said. “With that said, though, we were still getting a lot of stops. We also did a great job not turning the ball over when they were trapping. They’ve got some long guys, and Nate, Brady and Kale did a good job there.”
Nothing came easy for the Maroons in the final game of the night.
Every time it looked as if the Maroons were about to take command, the Panthers struck back.
Jerem Rager hit a 3-pointer from the top to start an 8-0 in the final 1:31 of the first quarter, turning a 7-0 BC lead into an 8-7 Belgrade advantage after the first quarter.
The Maroons forced Belgrade turnovers on the team’s first five possessions and outscored Belgrade 8-3 in the second quarter.
A Nate Bolstad three-point play sent the Maroons into the locker room with a 15-11 lead.
“It was great defense by both teams,” Kelly said.
The coach, though, took a ton of pride in how his team performed on that end, especially considering how Belgrade’s 45-40 win over BC Feb. 5 in Belgrade played out.
“A month ago in Belgrade we were so bad defensively,” Kelly said. “It was like 23-5 in the first 10 minutes. We looked so silly. They were cutting on us, beating us on the dribble. I think it shows a lot of work these guys put in in the last month. We were not a great defensive team a month ago, but that was a good effort.”
The Maroons built a 19-14 lead midway through the third quarter. Again, BC couldn’t take an easy breath, and Brandon Karnath turned a 3-point play before Ragar hit a fade-away jumper to tie the game at 19 with 3:53 left in the third.
“They hit some big shots,” Guldseth said. “We kept letting them back in it. You can’t do that in a game like this. We’re pretty fortunate to come out on top. ”
Dalton Sessions scored off a nice Bolstad pass to start a 6-0 Maroon run the next time down the court. BC led the rest of the way.
Guldseth’s three was BC’s lone field goal of the fourth quarter. They did the rest of their damage — or just enough, as it turns out — from the free throw line.
Senior Brady Tippett scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Maroons, while Bolstad added eight points and six boards, Sessions scored five off the bench, Marcus Ferriter tossed in three and Connor McGree netted two.
Danny Peoples, Emmett McCarthy and Chad Peterson also contributed for the Maroons, who improved to 15-7 on the season.
Daniel Meyer, a 6-foot-9 senior, scored 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead Billings Central to a 56-42 win over Frenchtown to send the Rams to the semis. Laurel will play Stevensville in the other side.
Butte Central didn’t play Billings Central, which is coached by Anaconda native and former Billings Senior coach Jim Stergar, this season.
“We want to get one tomorrow,” Kelly said. “We haven’t played against a Stergar-coached team, and they’ve got some real athletes for sure.”
BELGRADE (13-8) — Jeremy Ragar 4-14 0-0 10, Drew Fowler 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Stubbs 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Townsend 0-5 0-0 0,Jared Bryant 3-8 0-0 8, Brandon Karnath 5-12 1-1 14, Shilon Christopher 0-1 2-2 2, Trevor Mahn 0-3 0-0 0.
BUTTE CENTRAL (15-7) — Kale Guldseth 3-6 4-6 11, Conner McGree 0-0 2-4 2, Brady Tippett 3-7 3-5 10, Marcus Ferriter 1-2 1-2 3, Nate Bolstad 2-8 4-5 8, Danny Peoples 0-2 0-0 0, Emmett McCarthy 0-0 0-0 0, Dalton Sessions 2-3 1-3 5, Chad Peterson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-28 15-25 39.
Belgrade 8 3 11 12 — 34
Central 7 8 10 14 — 39
3-point goals — Belgrade 7-24 (Karnath 3-9, Ragar 2-5, Bryant 2-6, Mahn 0-3, Townsend 0-1), BC 2-6 (Guldseth 1-2, Tippett 1-2, Bolstad 0-2). Assists — Belgrade 8 (Ragar 2, Townsend 2, Christopher 2), BC 6 (Tippett 2, Ferriter 2). Steals — Belgrade 4 (Rgar, Townsend, Bryant, Christopher), BC 5 (Bolstad 3, Guldseth, McCarthy). Blocks — Belgrade 2 (Townsend 2), BC 0. Turnovers — Belgrade 16, BC 14. Fouls — Belgrade 19, BC 9. Fouled out — Mahn. Technicals — none.