By Bruce Sayler
The quality of the undefeated Dillon boys’ basketball team stood out Friday night in the Beavers’ 58-48 victory over Butte Central. It clinched Dillon a State A Tournament spot. (Stats)
The rivalry renewal game came in the semifinal round of the Western A Divisional tournament in the Butte Civic Center. The result sent Dillon into Saturday’s 8 p.m. championship game against Polson, and Butte Central into an 11:30 a.m. loser-out game versus Hamilton. The winner of the morning game will play at 5 p.m. for third place against either Frenchtown or Ronan and will advance to the state tournament. Frenchtown and Ronan meet Saturday at 11:30 at the Maroon Activities Center in a loser-out. (Bracket)
Butte Central put forth one of its stronger team efforts of the season against Dillon, but the Maroons’ youth, lesser experience and shorter heights could not overcome what the Beavers brought to the arena.
The Beavers even connected from behind the arc, led by Jace Fitzgerald raining in five 3-point baskets in a 19-point performance that led the team.
“That’s a really good basketball team,” Butte Central head coach Brodie Kelly said. “I’m proud we fought to the end. Dillon is always tough to beat, but when they’re shooting baskets from the 3-point line, they’re really tough to beat.”
It was a hardly a blowout, though.
The Beavers began with a 9-2 run launched by Fitzgerald swishing a 3-pointer. The Maroons recovered and played evenly with Dillon through the rest of the first quarter. It ended with Dillon ahead, 16-8.
Butte Central cut the lead in half on rebound baskets by Drew Badovinac and Bryan Holland at the front of the second period. Cole Truman netted a put-back for the Beavers before Dougie Peoples meshed a 3-pointer for the Maroons. The Peoples trey cut Butte Central’s deficit to three points, 18-15, with 4 minutes, 45 seconds left in the half.
The 16-0 Beavers responded. Fitzgerald canned a 3-pointer, Jonathan Kirkley caged two free throws and Eli Nourse came off the bench to hoop a trey. Dillon fought off another smaller Butte Central surge and led the Maroons 29-19 at halftime.
“We had (the deficit) down to three in the second quarter and then, in the second half, we made a little run at them,” Kelly said. “I thought Drew did a nice job of getting into the lanes against them.
“Drew was fearless from the beginning. This might have been his best game of the year. He was taking it to the teeth of their zone defense and at their big guys.”
Badovinac finished with nine points, second on the team behind Peoples’ 23.
Peoples scored a basket to the start the second half and bring the gap down to eight points. Peoples traded points with the Beavers, including 3-pointers with Fitzgerald, to a 34-26 score. The 3-pointers grew longer.
Fitzgerald mailed another one home from the hotdog stand and Truman followed with a layup off a Daxon Graham assist. Play was even the rest of the third frame and Dillon took a 47-33 command into the final quarter.
Butte Central had a chance to get scrap closer at the start of the fourth with a Kyle Holter basket and free throws by Badovinac and Holland. The Maroons, however, missed three foul shots in the small surge that saw Dillon answer with only charity toss made by Truman.
The Beavers then strung six unanswered points on baskets by Fitzgerald, Truman and Jonny Reiser for a 17-point cushion, 54-37, and 2:38 showing on the clock. Peoples scored nine points after a Holter drive for hoop in the last minute of play, but the effort wasn’t enough to catch Beavers.
The loss put the Maroons at 11-7 for the year.
“We’re undersized against everybody, but against them, there were a couple of matchups where we were significantly undersized,” Kelly said. “I thought we did a good job of being physical against them.
“Now, we have to get ready to roll tomorrow at 11:30.”
The 6-0 Holter scored eight points to join the 6-2 Peoples and 6-0 Badovinac as Butte Central scoring leaders. The 6-0 Holland grabbed five rebounds to go with his eight points. Bryson Sestrich, Egan Lester and Konnor Pochervina also played several minutes.
Fitzgerald, at 6-2, and the 6-5 Truman, with 11 points, were Dillon’s double-figure scorers. Connor Curnow, a 6-3 junior, bossed the boards with 12 rebounds and also tallied four points. Kirkley, Reiser and Nourse finished with six points apiece, 6-7 junior Callahan Hoffman notched five and Graham recorded an assist and a block. Caleb Hansen also played.