By Bill Foley
When the margin of victory is 28 points, it is hard to point to one basket as a key to the victory.
Bryson Sestrich’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer just before halftime, though, was absolutely huge.
The Butte Central senior took a pass from teammate Dougie Peoples and sent the Maroons into the locker room on a high Thursday night. After that, the Maroons rolled to a 65-37 win over Butte High in front of a crowd of about 3,000 at the Butte Civic Center.
“It was a momentum builder,” Sestrich said. “We always say, ‘Win the first five minutes of the third quarter,’ and I think that shot helped. It helped us get the momentum to come back in the third quarter.”
Sestrich’s three put the Maroons up 28-17 at the break. BC then blew the game open by outscoring the Bulldogs 21-12 in the third quarter.
“The last two and a half minutes of the first half were huge,” Butte Central coach Brodie Kelly said. “It felt like it was a one- or two-possession game, and we grew it to 11 pretty quick. His 3-point shooting was really important in that stretch.”
Butte High entered the game looking for its 100th win over the Maroons. Instead, the night was a historic one for the Maroons, who notched their biggest blowout victory of the Bulldogs in the history of the rivalry that dates back to 1916.
The 28-point victory was the biggest in the series since the Bulldogs routed Butte Central 67-36 in 1990.
“Hat’s off to them,” Butte High coach Matt Luedtke said. “They played hard the whole game. I didn’t think we gave a great effort in the second half defensively. We got away from playing our team basketball.
“It was just one of those nights,” Luedtke added. “It wasn’t our night. It was their night, and they’re a good basketball team. We’ve got a lot to learn, and we’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do.”
Peoples, a junior who entered the game averaging a shade under 20 points, sank a 3-pointer on BC’s second possession to put the Maroons at 3-0, and BC never trailed.
The Maroons led 11-6 after a slow first quarter, and BC tied the game when the Bulldogs opened the second quarter with two Kenley Leary free throws and a three-point play from Jonas Sherman.
Sestrich then hit the first of his three 3-pointers in the second half to put BC up for good. After Cameron Gurnsey hit one of two free tosses to cut the lead to 14-12, Sestrich hit another one.
A bucket by peoples made it 23-17, and the Maroons looked like they were going to take a 25-18 lead into halftime when BC sophomore Jack Keeley scored off a pass from Eric Loos with 38 seconds left.
The Maroons went nuts when Sestrich beat the buzzer.
“I caught the ball and saw the clock was ticking down,” Sestrich said. “So, I just hucked up a shot.”
Kelly pointed to Peoples on the play.
“Dougie set him up well,” the coach said. “I was yelling at Dougie, ‘Don’t charge.’ I could just see him going into the lane. So, he just made a little juke and set Bryson up.”
Kyle Holter took a pass from Loos, a fellow junior, and turned it into a 3-point play to open the third. That started an 11-5 run.
Jace Stenson scored off a Leary pass, and Leary hit two mor free throws as Butte High pulled to with 42-29 with 3:06 left in the third.
Another Sestrich three followed by a three from Keeley, though, blew the doors off any Butte High comeback hopes. The Maroons led 49-29 heading into the fourth.
Partly because he wanted to play some younger players and partly because he was made with his team’s effort, Luedtke went to the bench for five freshmen to start the fourth. Garret Sharp, Dylan Bache, Colton Shea, Trey McCarthy and Spencer Callaghan took the floor for the Bulldogs.
The Maroons opened the frame with a 10-1 lead before Kelly, too, turned to some reserves.
Peoples and Sestrich both hit four 3-pointers in the win. Peoples finished with 12 points, while Sestrich joined Holter with 12. The Maroons also got seven from Keeley, six from Loos, and two apiece from Drew Badovinac, Gage Guldseth and Zane Moodry.
Joseph Sehulster and George Riojas also played for the Maroons, who rolled their record to 6-0.
Senior Kooper Klobucar scored eight points to lead the Bulldogs (0-3).
“Kooper gave us a lot of problems in the first half,” Kelly said of the 6-foot-6 Klobucar. “He’s a presence in the post, and he made some really nice moves in there. Outside of that, I thought we did a good job guarding them.”
Sestrich said it was just BC’s typical hard-nosed man-to-man defense that stymied the Bulldogs, who just could not seem to be able to buy a bucket.
“They couldn’t get a driving lane, and their shots just weren’t falling today,” Sestrich said. “It fell in our favor.”
Stenson and Gurnsey scored six apiece for the Bulldogs. Callaghan scored five, and Leary finished with four. The Bulldogs also got three from Sherman, two from Sharp and Casey Merrifield and one from Bache.
Bo Demarais also contributed for the Bulldogs, who now lead the all-time series 99-79-1.
Sestrich played down the margin of victory. While he acknowledged it will be a win he and his teammates will talk about for decades to come, he said it is just one game.
“Bragging rights, I guess is all it is,” Sestrich said. “We get to celebrate for one night, then it’s on to the next one.”
Central’s next game is Jan. 6 at home against Livingston. The Bulldogs will head to Kalispell to open Western AA play Jan. 7 and 8 against Flathead and Glacier.
“We’ll get better,” Luedtke said. “We’re young, and we’ve got some guys who need to figure it out.”
Kelly said the Maroons are ready for the holiday break. While the season is less than two weeks old, the Maroons have already played a third of their regular-season schedule.
“We’re looking forward to this break,” Kelly said. “We’ve had four games in eight days. We’ve got some guys who are banged up, too.”
Kelly, too, downplayed the significance of the victory.
“I think I disappoint people with my quotes,” Kelly said. “This game is over. We’re moving on. We’ve got conference games. We’ve got tournaments coming up.”
BUTTE CENTRAL (6-0) — Bryson Sestrich 4 0-0 12, Drew Badovinac 1 0-0 2, Dougie Peoples 7 4-6 22, Kyle Holter 4 4-7 12, Eric Loos 0 6-6 6, Jack Keeley 3 0-0 7, Joseph Sehulster 0 0-0 0, Zane Moodry 1 0-0 2, George Riojas 0 0-0 0, Gage Guldseth 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 14-19 65.
BUTTE HIGH (0-3) — Jace Stenson 2 0-0 6, Cameron Gurnsey 1 4-5 6, Casey Merrifield 1 0-0 2, Kenley Leary 0 4-4 4, Kooper Klobucar 4 0-0 8, Jonas Sherman 1 1-1 3, Bo Demarais 0 0-0 0, Garret Sharp 0 2-2 2, Dylan Bache 0 1-2 1, Colton Shea 0 0-0 0, Trey McCarthy 0 0-0 0, Spencer Callaghan 2 0-1 5. Totals 11 12-15 37.
Central 11 17 21 16 — 65
Butte 6 11 12 8 — 37
3-point goals — BC 9 (Sestrich 4, Peoples 4, Keeley 1), Butte 3 (Stenson 2, Callaghan 1). Fouls — BC 14, Butte 18. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.