By Bruce Sayler
Butte High played host to a speech meet last weekend. The Bulldog girls’ basketball team delivered a winning address of their own Tuesday night, rallying past Missoula Big Sky for a 45-39 victory in the Butte Civic Center.
Few witnessed. The crowd was, perhaps, the smallest of the season.
Big Sky held a 23-17 lead with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first half before Butte High halved the difference with three points from Laura Rosenleaf. So, with the Eagles clinging to a 23-20 edge and owning some confidence after outplaying the Bulldogs to intermission, Butte High head coach Bryan Arntson needed to inspire his players.
“Actually, I was pretty calm in there,” he said. “The coaches went out the door and I left it to the seniors, told them to lead. The halftime speech was by them.”
It must have been fiery. The Bulldogs outscored Big Sky 17-7 in the third quarter.
Ashley Olson and Brooke McGrath pled the fifth.
“Tylar talked,” they both said.
Tylar Clary was held to two points, on free throws for Butte High’s last two points of the game, but apparently starred in oratory.
“She told us we’re supposed to work hard,” Olson said, “and to get out there and work hard and play tough.”
McGrath and Olson added that Clary, a 5-foot-7 guard, told all the Bulldogs they should not behind at that time because “we’re better than them” as a team.
McGrath drilled two 3-point baskets in the third quarter and another in the fourth on her way to a game-high 16 points. Olson had 11 points, seven rebounds and blocked three shots.
Butte High got the lead for good with a 7-0 run the early half of the third period. The Eagles had a 25-22 edge after a short jumper by athletic 6-foot freshman Kadynce Couture. McGrath buried her first 3-ball and then Olson wrapped two made free throws around a basket by McGrath off a feed from Clary.
The first McGrath 3-pointer tied the score and Olson first converted foul shot brought Butte High its lead.
A 3-pointer by Audrey Hale cut the Bulldogs’ lead to a point, 29-28. Butte High answered with a pair of 3-pointers, one each by Emmarie Richards and McGrath. The seven-point advantage stood at the quarter break, too, the Bulldogs leading by 37-30 going into the last frame.
Big Sky got to within three points, 37-34 at the beginning of the last quarter, on two charity tosses by Avari Batt and a steal and pullup jumper by Hale. Butte High then rolled for the next six points, a freebie by Rosenleaf, McGrath’s last 3-pointer and a pass from McGrath to Rosenleaf for a layup.
Just under a minute remained to play and the Eagles couldn’t catch up, Clary’s two free throws countering another pullup by Hale and a 3-pointer by Batt.
“It took a while for the kids to get settled in,” Arntson said, referring to the first-half doldrums the Bulldogs endured. “(The Eagles) played really well and they hit some shots that, maybe, they hadn’t hit all year. They made us play defense.
“We played better in the second half. We got some 50-50 balls in the second half and they got every one of them in the first half.”
Big Sky was able to stymie or weather the Bulldogs’ inside game centered around the 6-3 Olson and the 5-10 Rosenleaf in the first half. McGrath and Emmarie Richards knocking down 3-pointers helped pull the Eagles’ defense to the perimeter.
“We had an advantage in the paint,” Arntson said. “I don’t know that we worked hard enough in the first half to get the ball into the paint. You get higher-percentage shots when go into the paint, then out to the perimeter.
“We had a good offense in the second half. Brooke heated up in the second half. She was one who benefitted from us getting a touch in the paint and then going to the outside. We knocked down some shots doing that and it changed the momentum of the game.”
Rosenleaf finished with 12 rebounds to lead all on the boards. She also had six points while Kodie Hoagland scored four, and Richards and Payton Clary each netted a 3-pointer. Tylar Clary dealt six assists.
The win squared Butte High’s Western AA Conference record at 2-2 and put the Bulldogs at 6-2 for the season. They will be home against Missoula Sentinel on Friday. Butte High played without backup point guard, senior Pieper Joseph, who was on the bench with street clothes, but was unable to play because of medical precaution, Arntson said.
Big Sky, now 1-2 in league play and 3-4 overall, was led by Hale with 14 points and Batt with 12. Couture had six points and a team-high nine rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Hale also came up with seven steals.
MISSOULA BIG SKY (3-4, 1-2) — Grace Bunnell 1-2 1-1 3, Avari Batt 3-9 4-4 12, Audrey Hale 5-12 2-4 14, Maddie Jones 1-4 0-0 2, Kadynce Couture 2-9 2-4 6, Sadie McGuinn 1-2 0-0 2, Gianna Janacaro 0-0 0-0 0, Avary Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-38 9-13 39.
BUTTE HIGH (6-2, 2-2) — Kodie Hoagland 0-7 4-4 4, Tylar Clary 0-0 2-2 2, Emmarie Richards 1-6 0-0 3, Brooke McGrath 6-9 1-2 16, Ashley Olson 4-6 3-9 11, Laura Rosenleaf 2-2 2-5 6, Payton Clary 1-4 0-1 3. Totals 14-34 12-23 45.
Big Sky 9 14 7 9 — 39
Butte High 8 12 17 8 — 45
3-point goals – Big Sky 4-16 (Bunnell 0-1, Batt 2-5, Hale 2-7, Jones 0-1, Couture 0-1, McGuinn 0-1), Butte High 5-16 (Hoagland 0-6, Richards 1-2, McGrath 3-6, P. Clary 1-2). Fouled out – Couture. Total fouls – Big Sky 19, Butte High 15. Technicals – none. Rebounds – Big Sky 26 (Couture 9, Batt 7), Butte High 39 (Rosenleaf 12, Olson 7). Blocks – Big Sky 1 (Couture), Butte High 3 (Olson 3). Assists – Big Sky 7 (Hale 3), Butte High 14 (T. Clary 6, Olson 3). Steals – Big Sky 14 (Hale 7), Butte High 7 (McGrath 2, Hoagland 2). Turnovers – Big Sky 18, Butte High 19.