It is do-or-die time for the Butte High boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.
Both Bulldog teams will play in Western AA playoff games Thursday. A win means a berth in next week’s Class AA State tournament in Great Falls. A loss ends the season.
Butte High’s boys will play host to Kalispell Flathead in a 5 p.m. game at the Richardson Gym. The Bulldog girls hit the road for a 6 p.m. showdown with Missoula Sentinel.
The Bulldog boys will be playing their first home playoff game since 2008, when Butte High struggled mightily from the free throw line and fell 49-47 to Billings Senior in triple overtime.
The Class AA played divisional tournaments the last three years, with the 2018 tournament played in Butte. The class returned to the playoff format this year because of the pandemic.
Butte High swept the regular season with the Braves. Butte won a 77-74 thriller Jan. 16 in Butte. The Bulldogs completed the sweep with a 60-49 victory Feb. 13 in Kalispell.
Jake Olson scored 25 points, and fellow senior Cael Stenson tossed in 12 as Butte High knocked off Flathead in Butte. Senior Billy “The Kid” Kelly scored 17 to lead the Bulldogs in Kalispell. Olson scored 15.
Joston Cripe, a 6-foot junior who scored 23 to lead Flathead in the first meeting, averages 15.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per games to lead Flathead, which enters the postseason at 6-8. Hunter Hickey, a 6-3 senior, averages 13.0 points, and Gabe Adams, a 6-5 senior, adds 10.1 point s and 7.3 rebounds per game.
After starting the season at 4-3, Flathead went 2-5 over the final seven games.
Butte High is 7-7. The Bulldogs followed a three-game winning streak with losses at Missoula Hellgate, Missoula Big Sky and Helena Capital. The Bulldogs righted the ship in a big way by knocking off previously unbeaten Missoula Sentinel 73-64 last Friday.
Olson averages 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game to lead Butte High. Kelly scores 11.7 points per game. Senior Blake Drakos adds 8.1 points and a 3-point threat to the Bulldog lineup. Junior Mikey O’Dell scores 7.1 points per game.
Stenson, who averages 6.8 points per game, is coming off one of his best games, scoring 12 of his 15 points as Butte High went wire to wire to pull of one of the great upsets in school history.
Senior Zach Merrifield also adds a 3-point threat for the Bulldogs, who can count on juniors Kenley Leary and Koopler Klobucar and sophomores Cameron Gurnsey, Jace Stenson and Jonas Sherman for contributions.
Butte High’s girls played at Missoula Sentinel on Friday, falling 51-41 to the 8-6 Spartans. That was a much better showing than Butte High’s 65-38 home loss to Sentinel on Jan. 30.
Brooke Stayner, a 6-foot junior, averages 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game to lead the 8-6 Spartans. Challis Westwater, a 6-2 senior, adds 10.0 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Senior MacKenzie Tutty averages 9.4 points per game to lead the Bulldogs. She scored 20 points in Butte High’s Feb. 23 win at Flathead. She scored 13 at Sentinel three days later.
Junior Kodie Hoagland adds 6.8 points per game, while senior McCaul McCarthy contributes with 6.0 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Seniors Maddie Rhodes and Maddy Skeel also contribute for the Bulldogs, as do juniors Tylar Clary, Ashley Olson Brooke McGrath, Mya Stenson and Pieper Joseph and sophomores Emmarie Richards and Laura Rosenleaf.
Butte High enters the playoff game at 4-10. The Bulldogs are 3-3 over their last six games.
The Bulldog boys are looking for back-to-back trips to the state tournament. Butte High’s girls are looking for a return trip after falling just short of two straight state appearances last year.