Rustlers turn back Bulldogs

By Bill Foley

Count Great Falls Russell coach John Cislo as a believer in the Butte High boys’ basketball team.

Butte High fell to 0-5 in Eastern AA play and 2-8 overall with a 55-47 loss to the defending Class AA state champion Rustlers at the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gymnasium, Friday.

Bulldog coach Luke Powers said he can feel his team getting closer to turning the corner with each game.

“We have to continue to hang and get better,” Powers said. “We’re close. We’re an improved basketball team, but just not ready to win yet, I guess.”

As Powers talked to local reporters, Cislo came up to offer praise for the Bulldogs.

“We couldn’t play our 1-3-1 (zone) because of their plan today,” Cislo said. “Nobody’s ever done anything that different against our 1-3-1. We just had more horses.”

Then Cislo turned to Powers and said, “You’ve got a good team.”

While the words did little to cheer up the Bulldog coach, Butte High’s boys put on a performance that lived up to Cislo’s praise.

For three quarters, the Bulldogs went toe to toe with the defending champs.

Then, Russell Gagne, a 6-foot-5 senior, banked in a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter. That fortunate Rustle shot began a 16-4 run that proved to be the difference in the game.

CMR led 34-33 after three quarters. After the run, that lead was 50-37.

Powers said the difference in the game was the Rustlers (9-2, 5-1) dominated the offensive boards.

“It’s physical strength,” Powers said. “They just moved us under the basket. Sometimes those are fouls, sometimes they’re not. You can’t worry about that. We’ve got to go get the dang ball, and we didn’t board.”

Butte High made things interesting down the stretch. Trevyn Roth hit one of his three 3-pointers to cut the lead to 50-40.

After a free throw by Roth, fellow Bulldog senior Danny McCloskey drained a three to make it a 50-44 game with 1 minute, 16 seconds left.

The lead, though, was too much. The Rustlers extended the advantage to 53-44 from the free throw line. Another Roth three cut the lead to six before Gagne put an explanation point on the victory with a dunk just before the buzzer.

The teams played to an 8-all tie in the first quarter, and CMR took a 21-18 advantage into halftime.

Clay Ferguson hit a jumper to tie the game at 26 before Gagne hit a 3-pointer with 5 minutes left in the third.

Bulldog sophomore Jake Olson scored off a Kash Kelly pass, Gagne scored on a put back, and McCloskey sank a 3-pointer to tie the game at 31 with 1:59 on the clock.

After Keegan Barnes hit one of two free throws, Tommy Mellott scored off a great pass from Kelly on the break for a 33-32 Butte High lead.

That lead, which proved to be Butte’s last, however, only lasted 15 seconds. Cason Taylor scored with 11 ticks left in the third for a 34-33 lead heading into the fourth.

Powers said the Rustlers wore the Bulldogs down.

“The third quarter turned into kind of a football game under the basket,” Powers said. “They played football, we didn’t. If the game is going to be physical like that, you go to match it.”

Gagne finished with 19 points to lead three Rustlers in double figures. Barnes scored 14 points, while Taylor tallied 10. CMR also got seven points from Caleb Currington, three from Kaden Gardner and two from Harrison Goss.

Ferguson scored 15 to lead the Bulldogs. Roth joined his fellow senior in double figures with 10 points. Olson, McCloskey and Tommy Mellott each scored six, and Kelly and Kale McCarthy netted two apiece.

The Bulldogs have little time to shake off their second loss of the season to CMR. Butte High will leave town at 7 a.m. Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. Eastern AA game at Great Falls High.

GREAT FALLS RUSSELL (9-2, 4-1) — Caleb Currington 3 0-0 7, Tucker Greenwell 0 0-2 0, Cason Taylor 2 6-9 10, Keegan Barnes 6 2-5 14, Russell Gagne 8 0-0 19, Bryce Nelson 0 0-0 0, Harrison Goss 1 0-1 2, P.J. Thomas 0 0-0 0.  Kaden Gardner 1 1-2 3. Totals 21 9-19 55.
BUTTE HIGH (2-8, 0-5) — Kash Kelly 1 0-0 2, Clay Ferguson 5 5-6 15, Kale McCarthy 1 0-1 2, Danny McCloskey 2 0- 2 6, Jake Olson 3 0-2 6, Trevyn Roth 3 1-2 10, Tommy Mellott 3 0-0 6, Jake Vetter 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 6-13 47.
Great Falls Russell                8          13        13        21 — 55
Butte High                              8          10        15        14 — 47

3-point goals — CMR 4 (Gagne 3, Currington), Butte 5 (Roth 3, McCloskey 2). Fouls — CMR 14, Butte 17. Fouled out — Gardner, Harrington.