Maroons open State with Thursday matinee

By Bill Foley

Butte Central’s girls’ basketball team finds itself in the same situation as it was this time last season.

That is to say that the Maroons are three wins away from defending its state title as the Class A State girls’ basketball tournament begins Thursday at the Butte Civic Center. (Bracket)

This time around, though, much is different from when the Maroons won it all last March in Belgrade.

For starters, the Maroons will be playing in their hometown when they open the tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday against Havre.

Butte Central will be playing with many of the same players who hoisted the trophy and completed a 24-0 record last march, but the Maroons are far from the favorite this year.

That distinction belongs to Columbia Falls and Hardin, the divisional champions who both carry a 20-1 record into town.

Of the eight teams playing, only three (Columbia Falls, Havre and Butte Central) played in last year’s state tournament in Belgrade.

But three wins is three wins, and the Maroons can prepare to board the firetruck for their third championship parade since 2011 with those three victories.

The Maroons take a 16-6 record into the tournament. That includes a 3-1 mark at last week’s Western A Divisional tournament in Hamilton. BC battled back from a loss to Columbia Falls in the semifinals to place third.

Butte Central sophomore Bella Sorini goes to the hoop between Hamilton defenders Rachael Ringer (21), Kara Nye (11) and Tessa Della Silva Jan. 28 at the Maroon Activities Center. (Butte Sports file photo)

Havre, the 2014 champion, comes to town with a 15-6 record. The Blue Ponies went 8-0 to win the Central A title before falling 50-39 to Hardin in the East/Central Divisional title game.

Naomi Terry and Kyndall Keller lead the Blue Ponies into action.

Terry is a 5-foot-6 senior who averaged 14.6 points per game on the regular season. She also averaged 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

Keller is a 5-7 freshman who averaged 12.1 points and 4.9 boards.

Ceyara Plante, a 5-7 senior, averaged 7.0 points per game, while 5-4 junior Kaylee Nystrom averaged 2.9 steals and 2.3 assists.

BC senior Mollie Peoples (5-8) averaged 18.4 points per game in the regular season to lead the Maroons. The future Montana Tech Oredigger also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2.3 steals per game.

Fellow senior Emily St. John (5-9) averaged 15.6 points to go along with 3.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals.

Junior Kloie Thatcher, who missed seven games because of a knee injury suffered in the season opener, averaged 9.8 points per game. She also grabbed 3.5 rebounds, dished out 4.5 assists and collected 3.5 steals per game.

Sophomore guard Tricia Joyce (5-2) and senior Caleigh Mullaney (6-0) typically round out BC’s starting lineup.

Senior Corbyn Holm (5-10) was a late comer to the Maroons. After taking a two-year hiatus from playing hoops, the future college volleyball player went out for the team after the tipoff tournament to help fill a need.

Butte Central senior Corbyn Holm goes up for a put back between Belgrade’s Krista Brown (32) and Bailey Christensen Feb. 14 at the Maroon Activities Center. (Butte Sports file photo)

She hasn’t been a big-time scorer, but she doesn’t have to be. Her job is defense and rebounding, and she has performed that well with 5.1 boards per game.

Senior Tzuchen Lin (5-7); junior Olivia Bolton (5-7), sophomores Bella Sorini (5-8) and Shea Davis (5-10); and freshmen Tess Riordan, Cassidy Strizic (5-8), Zoe Doherty (5-4) and Emma Keeley (5-8) also contribute for the Maroons. All are on the roster for the state tournament.

Baring a major upset, the winner of the BC-Havre game will play Columbia Falls in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal game.

The Wildkats’ only loss on the season came to Missoula Sentinel, which has the best record in the Class AA. Columbia Falls, which has six players standing 5-10 or taller, beat Cinderella Corvallis 71-40 in the Western A Divisional championship game.

Columbia Falls will take on Laurel in the tournament opener at 12:30 p.m.

Senior Kiara Burlage (6-0) averaged 15.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the regular season. She is one of four Wildkats who average in double figures scoring.

Senior Payton Kehr (5-11) adds 14.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, while junior Whitefish transfer Dani Douglas (5-4), the daughter of former Butte High quarterback Don Douglas, averaged 11.3 points, 3.7 assists and 3.5 steals during the regular season.

Also, Cydney Finberg (5-11) averages 10.8 points, and senior Sydney Howde (6-1) averages 7.0 points and 6.6 rebounds.

The Locomotives, the champions in 2013, are 11-10 after placing fourth in the East/Central Divisional.

Sophomore Aspen Cotter (5-5) paced laurel with 12.6 points per game in the regular season. Senior Rylee Clark (5-6) was the only other Locomotive to average in double figures with 10.4 points per game.

Junior Ellie Kildhal (6-0) adds 8.1 points and a team-best 5.8 rebounds to the lineup.

Hardin highlights the bottom half of the bracket after the Bulldogs claimed their first divisional title since 1994 last weekend at MetraPark Arena in Billings.

Senior Madisan Chavez (5-7) led the Bulldogs through their dominant regular season with 14.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game. She was one of three Bulldogs who averaged in double figures scoring.

Junior Karissa Dushane (5-4) added 13.1 points and 3.8 steals, while senior Trahnea Phelan (5-6) averaged 11.8 points.

The Bulldogs will play Hamilton (8-13) in the 8 p.m. game.

The Broncs, who are two years removed from a state title, have played better than their record all season long. They placed fourth at divisionals, falling 44-42 to Butte Central in the third-place game.

Junior Mallory McGill (5-6) averaged 9.7 points per game to lead Hamilton during the season. Senior Reilly Rostad (5-6) and junior Tristan Searl (5-10) each scored 11 points to lead the Broncs Saturday against the Maroons.

Butte Central junior Kloie Thatcher splits Corvallis defenders Lainie Albright (24) and Calla Haldorson (10) on her way to the hoop Jan. 14 at the Maroon Activities Center. (Butte Sports file photo)

The 6:30 p.m. game pits Corvallis (12-9) against Belgrade (13-9).

Corvallis threw the Western A bracket on its head with wins over Frenchtown and Dillon on its way to the title game.

Sophomore Calla Haldorson (5-6) averaged 11.7 points per game to lead the balanced Blue Devil attack. Senior Corinne Sanderson (5-8) added 11.6 points, while senior Emme Warnken (5-5) averaged 10.6. Warnken scored 17 points in the title-game loss to Columbia Falls.

Senior Penny Jessop (5-10), who scored 4.7 points per game, is Corvallis’ best rebounder with 7.2 boards per game.

The Panthers, who went 6-2 in league play, battled back to place third in the East/Central Divisional.

Senior Shania Neubauer (5-8) is the lone Panther to average in double figures scoring with 11.1 points per game in the regular season. Gabby Walker, who scored 21 points in Belgrade’s 48-40 win over Laurel in the third-place game, averaged 8.5 points.

Senior Krista Brown (5-8) averaged 8.0 points and a team-best 5.1 rebounds.