Butte Central will head to the Class A State tournament, but it wasn’t quite the way the Maroons wanted to.
Stevensville topped the hometown boys 55-45 in the championship game of the Southwestern A Divisional basketball tournament Saturday night at the Maroon Activities Center.
The game was played in front of a crowd of around 3,000.
Both the Yellowjackets and the Maroons will head to State, which is in two weeks at the MetraPark Arena in Billings.
Dillon, which battled back for third place, will not be able to defend its title. Several Dillon players watched the game wearing Maroons shirts and cheering in the Butte Central student section.
A BC victory would have given the Beavers a challenge game against Stevensville.
“It was a heck of an opportunity for us to play in a divisional championship game on our own floor, and we had awesome crowd support,” BC coach Brodie Kelly said. “I know all of our guys are really thankful for the people who showed up tonight.”
Butte Central beat Dillon in a triple-overtime classic in Friday’s semifinal. When Dillon took third earlier in the day, the Maroons knew they didn’t have to win to move on.
Still, they battled to the end.
“We wanted to win it, but it’s an unusual feeling going into a divisional championship game knowing you already qualified,” Kelly said. “The nerves are not quite the same. We certainly wanted to win that game as much as we would have. I still feel the best is yet to come for us.”
Even in defeat, senior Brady Tippett made the last game he’d play on his home court in a BC uniform a memorable one. Tippett scored 25 points to lead all scorers. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter as the Maroons desperately tried to capture that top trophy.
Zach Gavlak scored 21 points to pace the Yellowjackets (17-3). Jesse Sims scored 12 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Jared Schultz scored 11 and Austin Lords netted eight.
The Maroons and Yellowjackets split the regular-season series. Stevensville won on a buzzer-beater in Stevensville. BC won in overtime in Butte.
“The reason we were able to beat them and play with them the first time was we handled their posts well,” Kelly said. “We kept it out of there. Gavlak and Sims just ate us up in that game. In the first half we were good, but in the second half they had their way with us.
“That’s a really good team,” Kelly added. “Their first five on the floor, they can all score. They’re a hard team to guard.”
Stevensville, which had a bye thanks to the regular-season title, only played one game in the tournament before Saturday. The Maroons played two, including the epic battle with Dillon.
Kelly said that had no bearing on the title game.
“We had our chance down the stretch,” Kelly said. “That’s what I told our guys afterward. In tournament basketball, you’ve got to close the deal. Down the stretch we had possessions where we missed open shots and they followed it up. We missed an open three and they went down hit a tough pull-back three by Lords. That’s a difference maker in a game like that.”
Kale Guldseth and Marcus Ferriter each scored six for the Maroons, while Dalton Sessions scored five and Danny Peoples tossed in three. Connor McGree, Nate Bolstad and Emmett McCarthy also played for the Maroons.
Butte Central will open the State tournament on Thursday, March 7 against Belgrade, which beat Browning in the Central A championship game Saturday night.
Kelly is in his ninth year coaching the Maroons. He’s leading his team to State for the eighth time. Butte Central missed out last year, the first time the Maroons stayed home since 2004.
“The main goal is to qualify,” Kelly said. “We’re in, and now we’re one of eight teams that has a chance.”