The margin for error will be razor thin as the Butte Central boys’ basketball team tries to qualify for the Class A State tournament for the ninth time in 10 years.
Only two teams move on to state, and the Maroons enter the tournament knowing that one bad quarter could derail a 15-3 season in the blink of an eye. State is next week in Great Falls.
As the No. 2 seed in the conference — and the No. 3-ranked team in the Class A — the Maroons, who finished the season with an 8-2 record, received a bye to the semifinals.
There, BC will take on Anaconda (1-9, 4-14), or Stevensville (7-3, 11-7) at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The Copperheads and Yellowjackets play at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday with a spot in that game on the line.
Corvallis (4-6, 9-9) will play Hamilton (1-9, 4-12) at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The winner of that game will play Dillon (9-1, 16-2) in Friday’s 12:30 p.m. semifinal.
Baring a major upset, the Maroons will play Stevensville, a scary team just so happens to be the Class A defending state champion.
Jared Schultz is a cold-blooded scoring machine who leads the Yellowjackets (team stats) bid for a repeat, averaging 18.1 points per game. He’s hit on 34 shots from 3-point land in 18 games this season.
Zach Gavlack, a future Montana Tech football player, averages 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Yellowjackets, who lost a key part of the team midseason.
Junior Jesse Sims, the MVP at last year’s state tournament, transferred to Corvallis at the semester break. Sims, who is not eligible to play varsity because of transfer rules, averaged 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game at the time of his untimely departure.
Butte Central’s only losses in Class A competition came against the Beavers, who suffered their first Class A loss last week against Stevensville in Dillon.
The talent-laden Maroons (team stats) are led by a pair of future Montana Tech Orediggers. Seniors Kale Guldseth and Nate Bolstad have been three year contributors for the Maroons.
Both have signed with the Orediggers, and both average 11.9 points per game to top a team that entered the season with high expectations. With the obvious exception of the lopsided home loss to Dillon, the Maroons have lived up to those lofty expectations.
Junior Marcus Ferriter adds 11.7 points and 4.7 per game for the Maroons, who have received serious contributions from up and down the roster this season.
Juniors Chad Peterson, Dalton Sessions and Danny Peoples have been key players, and senior Dylan Goodell emerged this season as a weapon off the bench. Senior Connor McGree, a future Carroll College football player, is Mr. Versatile for the Maroons. He does everything except score in bunches.
Sophomore guard Cal Hollow has came off the bench to play in every BC game this season. Cole Harper has also seen time.
The Copperheads (team stats), the other possible semifinal opponent of BC, enter the tournament after Saturday’s home loss to the Maroons. Sophomore Caleb Stetzner scored 18 points in an inspired effort that night. He averages 9.3 points per game.
Dennis Stanberry is the lone Copperhead averaging in double figures at 10.9. Cory Stanberry averaged 8.7 before suffering a gruesome season-ending broken leg.
Brandon Fode adds 7.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for the Copperheads, who made a surprise run at last year’s divisional tournament.
The unquestioned leader of the Beavers (team stats) is Troy Scott, who scored 36 points in a win over Butte High this month. The senior busted out this season and he’s averaging 21.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for Dillon, which was No. 1 in the Class A all season until Wednesday’s poll knocked them down to No. 2.
After Scott, the Beavers have a bunch of role players who are capable of going off for a big game. Justin Ferris came off the bench and scored 16 points in Dillon’s 60-28 win over the Maroons at the MAC earlier this month.
Corvallis (team stats) is a team that showed BC fans it has some serious talent less than two weeks ago.
Jayce Gilder averages 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds to beat a team more than capable of pulling off an upset or two this weekend. Brigham Parris adds 10.6 points per game, while Alma Powell scores 8.9.
Josh Heath’s 11.6 points per game leads Hamilton (team stats), which pulled off a first-round stunner two years ago in the first round of the divisional tournament in Dillon.
Teague Blome averages 8.4 points per game, while Kameron Kohn chips in with 8.1 points and 5.6 rebounds.
The Maroons are banking on some home cooking to help lead them back to the state tournament. Head coach Brody Kelly is in his 10th season with the Maroons. He has put up a 155-73 record at his alma mater.
His team missed the state tournament two years ago. That is the only time BC wasn’t playing on the final weekend since 2004.
Dillon saw its long state tournament run end last season when the Beavers fell to BC in the semifinals then watched their challenge game hopes disappear as Stevensville knocked off the Maroons in front of a near-capacity crowd.