Maroons edge Wildcats to stay alive

Aleesha LaBreche scored on a put back with 8 seconds left today as Butte Central kept its season alive with a 39-37 win over Columbia Falls.

Just after LaBreche’s rebound and basket, Hannah Stajcar stole the ball to preserve the victory in the loser-out game of the Class A State girls’ basketball tournament.

The Maroons (17-5) will play in the 11 a.m. loser-out game Saturday. If they win, they’ll play for third at 6:30.

“They wanted it,” BC coach Meg Murphy said of her Maroons, who bounced back from Thursday’s first-round loss to Browning. “This game is one of the toughest games — that loser out — to come back and play. They got that monkey off their back, and now they’ll be alright.”

The Maroons called time out with 18 seconds left.

Alysea Pica, a senior who scored a game-high 15 points, got off an off-balance shot from about 16 feet. LaBreche grabbed the board and threw up a shot that hit high up on the backboard before falling in.

Then, Stajcar stopped the Wildcats (17-6), who had repeated answers for the Maroons all game, get off a shot to tie the game. She stole the ball at half court and raced toward the hoop as the time ran off the clock.

For seniors like LaBreche, Pica, Stajcar, Danika Neumann, Annie Ossello and Mariah Cooney, it was almost the end of their career.

Classmate Danee Leary sat on the bench. She’s out for the tournament with an injury.

When the Wildcats went on a 10-3 run in the fourth quarter, it looked the rest of the seniors would join her.

The Maroons led 22-20 at halftime thanks to an 8-0 run in the second quarter. Central looked to take command when Pica turned a three-point play to start a 6-0 run to take a 32-25 lead late in the third quarter.

However, Columbia Falls, the No. 1-ranked team in the last Associated Press Power Poll, jumped on top with the 10-3 run that was capped by an Andrea Getts put back. That gave Columbia Falls a 37-35 lead.

Pica drove middle and hit a short jumper to tie the game at 37 with 55 ticks left.

LaBreche, who was in the game because Cooney fouled out on the Getts put back with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left, took a charge to give the Maroons the ball back.

After Winter Kemppainen stole the ball, the Wildcats missed two free throws with 25.8 seconds left, giving the Maroons one last shot.

Actually, they got two shots thanks to LaBreche’s rebound.

Neumann ended the game with nine points, while Cooney scored eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds.  Also, Stajcar tossed in five points and LaBreche had the two.

Ossello, Chandra McCurdy, Teressa Piazzola and Shawnee Hjelt also contributed for the Maroons, who are in the State tournament for the fourth straight year.

Haley Belgrade scored nine points to lead the Wildcats. Getts came off the bench to score eight, and Ciera Finberg and Kemppainen scored seven. Kemppainen grabbed 18 rebounds.

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