Heading into the Class A State tournament, the Butte Central girls’ basketball team is focusing on what it has rather than what it doesn’t.
The Maroons (16-4) are looking for their second State title in three years when they open the tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday against Browning (11-10) at the Butte Civic Center. (Bracket) (KOPR 94.1 FM. Listen live.)
BC will be without leading scorer Danee Leary for Thursday’s opener and likely the entire tournament after Leary suffered a concussion in Saturday’s win over Hamilton in the Southwestern A Divisional championship game.
Butte Central coach Meg Murphy said she’s planning on playing without Leary, a senior who averages 13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
“If she does she does, it’s an added bonus,” Murphy said of Leary playing. “If not, we’ll do what we have to do.”
The Maroons have six other seniors they’ll lean on.
Mariah Cooney is second on the team in scoring with 9.1 points per game. The 6-foot senior averages 9.4 boards.
Seniors Alysea Pica, Hannah Stajcar, Annie Ossello and Danika Neumann will also start for the Maroons. Senior Aleesha LaBreche will contribute off the bench.
Juniors Chandra McCurdy, Shelby Paffhausen and Taylure Templin and Freshman Shawnee Hjelt, Sierra Pica and Teresa Piazzola have also logged some big minutes for the Maroons this season.
“I like our chances,” Murphy said. “Those seniors are just great kids. We’re still pretty solid. We’ve never been a one-dimensional team. I don’t think losing one player makes us that way.”
Neumann, who spent most of the season as the sixth man, averages 8.4 points in BC’s balanced lineup. Pica Scores 7.7, while Stajcar adds 6.8. All are capable of going off for 20 points.
Murphy said the Maroons will miss Leary’s presence on the boards.
“We’re going to miss her physicality and ability to board,” Murphy said. “We’re going to look to Ossello and Cooney to pick that up.”
The tournament features five teams who made it to State last year, when the event was also played at the Civic Center. The Maroons find themselves on what appears to be the toughest side of the bracket.
After Browning, a team that crushed Livingston in the Central A challenge game Monday, the Maroons could be looking at the prospect of playing defending champion Billings Central (14-7) or Columbia Falls (17-4), the No. 1 team in the last Associated Press Power Poll.
Butte Central, which was ranked No. 2 in the last poll, fell 46-36 to Billings Central in last year’s championship game.
Marty Eagle Feathers, who averaged 13.5 points per game in the regular season, scored 16 points in Browning’s 62-36 win over Livingston Monday. Tiara Gilham scored 14. She averaged 8.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in the regular season.
“Browning is as good as anybody in the tournament. We’re going to have our hands full,” Murphy said. “Billings Central is going to have their hands full. It’s a going to be a great tournament. It’s wide open.”
On the other half of the bracket, Frenchtown (11-9), Laurel (16-6) and Havre (13-7) are making a return trip to State. Stevensville (12-9), led by future University of Montana player Alycia Sims, bounced back to beat Hamilton in the Southwestern A challenge game.
Butte Central is making its fourth straight State tournament appearance, and some of those players have been four-year contributors. Three years ago, BC made State for the first time in a generation.
“As far as overall experience, we probably played the most tournament games and big games,” Murphy said. “I like our kids. They’re going to come and compete.”