GREAT FALLS — The 2021 Butte Central boys’ basketball team did not defend its 2020 Class A State title.
The Maroons fell 55-44 to Laurel in a loser-out game of the Class A State tournament this morning at the Four Seasons Arena. (Stats)
Central’s young Maroons, though, did not go down without a fight. They also gave much more than a glimpse of a bright future to come from a team that lost nine seniors from last year’s state championship run.
Sophomore Kyle Holter opened the game with a pair of 3-poitners as the Maroons jumped out to a 10-4 lead on the Eastern A regular-season champion Locomotives, who are coached by Butte High graduate Tony Trudnowski.
That lead, though, did not last long. Laurel closed the quarter with 11 straight points to take the lead for good. The Locomotives led 15-10 after one and 26-20 at the half.
Laurel led 46-39 after three quarters. BC made several runs, but could not come close enough against a team with a distinctive height advantage.
“We scrapped and gave ourselves a chance, but we ultimately could not make a shot today,” BC coach Brodie Kelly said. “We couldn’t know them down today. We couldn’t make shots.”
Central, which led the Class A in free throw percentage on the season, could not even buy a shot from the charity stripe. Central shot just 15 for 26 from the line.
Richard Cortese a 6-foot-6 senior, scored 13 points to lead Laurel (14-5), which heads to the third-place game. Junior Kyason Moran tossed in 10 points in the win, and 6-7 senior Colter Bales tossed in nine.
“He was just a beast on the interior,” Kelly said of Cortese. “He’s big, very physical and really aggressive on the glass. So was Bales.”
Holter led the Maroons with 13 points. He was joined in double figures by sophomore Dougie Peoples and junior Bryson Sestrich with 10 points apiece.
Peoples finished his sure-to-be All-State season with 425 points in 22 games. That’s an average of 19.3 points per game for the leading scorer in the Class A.
Junior Drew Badovinac added eight points for the Maroons. He averaged 10 points at State and scored 61 points in seven post season games. That came after Badovinac, who continued his usual stellar defense throughout, scored 25 points in 15 regular-season games.
Senior Bryan “Hugo” Holland also added three points for BC.
The Maroons who close the season at 13-10, will lose four seniors — Lester, Holland, Isaac Sholey and John Fisher. The team will return juniors Sestrich, Badovinac, Joseph Sehulster, George Riojas and Gage Guldseth from the State tournament team.
Sophomores Peoples, Holter, Konnor Pochervina and Rye Doherty will also be back for BC, which will add Eric Loos to the varsity squad next year. Loos, who contributed on varsity the past two seasons for Butte High, transferred to BC in January.
When the Maroons started the season at 2-4, BC Kelly wondered if his team will even make the divisional tournament. Saturday, that same team finished as one of the top six teams in the Class A.
That the Maroons, who did not get to play summer ball, endured a season that included a 10-day quarantine will be something Kelly remembers.
“I can’t say enough about these kids and how much they overcame,” Kelly said. “These guys kept getting better.”
Next season, the Maroons will expect to again play on Saturday at State. They will, however, expect to end the season much later in the day.
Kelly, who has guided his team to State in 15 out of 17 seasons, said he knows that he cannot take anything for granted.
“It’s so hard to do what they just did,” the coach said. “There are so many teams that would love to be in their shoes and have that experience.”
— Tournament photos this week were provided by Quinn Peoples. Find Quinn Peoples Photography on Facebook and Instagram