By Bruce Sayler
Fifteen trips to the State Class A tournament in 17 years as the head boys’ basketball coach at Butte Central and Brodie Kelly says his nerves still work him over.
The 15th trip in Kelly’s tenure was clinched Saturday when the Maroons’ posted a hard-fought, well-earned 49-38 win over Hamilton. It was a loser-out game of the Western A tournament at the Butte Civic Center. The victory not only assured a BC state berth, but put it in position to take third place in the divisional, should it go on to defeat Ronan in the consolation final later in the afternoon. It will be the Maroons’ fifth game this week. (Stats)
Dillon and Polson were to meet for the Western A title in the evening.
The top four teams advance to the state tourney in Great Falls next week.
“I still get sick to my stomach in the morning,” Kelly said about the days of such big games, “after all these years.”
Hamilton gave him plenty to worry about, too. Another third-quarter explosion sparked by sophomore Kyle Holter, almost similar to one that won BC’s first-round game Thursday, sent Butte Central ahead to stay against the Broncs. The defense of Drew Badovinac and end-game free throw shooting by Dougie Peoples were other key components.
“Kyle has been absolutely amazing this whole weekend,” Kelly said. “In a game like this, you can’t run any set plays because everybody knows everybody and what you do. So, it’s all about guys stepping up.
“I have to mention Drew, too, because he’s been absolutely outstanding this whole tournament. I had to put him on (Austin) Drake after (Drake) scored 10 points in the first quarter. He made only two more shots after that.”
Drake finished with a game-high 20 points.
His first three baskets widened a Hamilton lead from 8-5 to 13-5 with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in the first frame. It was 15-8 at the break after Bryson Sestrich drilled a 3-pointer for Butte Central and Drake closed the period with a layup fed him by Jack Ellis.
The Maroons closed to within a basket as Holter scored a free throw and then a follow shot before Badovinac capped a BC five-point run with floater from the key. The Broncs, however, braced and a got layup from Eli Taylor after he captured a loose ball, then a free throw from Liam O’Connell. The half ended with Hamilton holding an 18-15 edge following another Badovinac floater.
Holter canned a 3-pointer to start the second half, tying the score. Drake answered in kind for Hamilton, then added another trey after Badovinac netted a pair of foul shots. The Broncs led 24-20 with 5:11 left in the third quarter.
They lost the lead for good to an 11-0 Butte Central spree.
Peoples meshed a pair of charity tosses, Holter and Egan Lester dropped in back-to-back 3-balls and Holter closed the run with a three-point play earned on a steal and layup.
O’Connell scored from inside for Hamilton, but the BC boys had gained the lead, 31-26, with a fretty fourth quarter looming.
Peoples scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, going 4-for-5 on freebies in the last period, to help ice the victory.
A Drake 3-pointer and a Tanner Hanson rebound basket pulled the Broncs to within 42-38 of the Maroons with 1:40 on the clock. The Broncs were forced to foul to slow time and gain more possession opportunities. Lester pulled down three important rebounds for Butte Central in the waning seconds and also hit a free throw.
The Lester foul shot, four straight charity tosses made by Peoples and then a Badovinac basket off a Sestrich pass finished the game. The BC boys took a 12-7 record into the consolation final.
Holter finished with 16 points to lead the team. Badovinac had eight, Lester four, and Sestrich and Bryan Holland each scored three. Konnor Pochervina also contributed to the win.
Butte Central graduated nine seniors from last year’s state championship team, leaving Kelly to reboot the program with almost all new players for this season, one often interrupted and bothered by cancellations, postponements and quarantines associated with the Covid-19 outbreak.
“This is a culmination of 12 months of work by our guys,” Kelly said. “It’s the guys practicing and putting in the time. This trip to state is their payoff.”
O’Connell finished with nine points to back Drake’s output for Hamilton before fouling out late in the game.
Butte Central’s hustle on the boards was another important part of the win. The Maroons outboarded the Broncs 34-20 with Lester yanking down eight caroms, and Sestrich, Holter and Badovinac corralling seven each.