GREAT FALLS – Butte High’s basketball season came to a hard end Saturday, as the Bulldogs dropped a tough 51-47 State Class AA girls’ consolation semifinal decision to Billings Senior Saturday morning at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls.
The Bulldog girls finished the campaign with a 19-5 record, though they had higher goals coming into the tournament.
“I told the kids to be proud of what they accomplished,” said veteran head coach Jeff Arntson. “I wish we could have finished stronger and brought home some hardware, but that wasn’t in the cards.”
Butte suffered through a flat first half following a deflating 52-43 semifinal loss to a strong Missoula Sentinel team Friday night.
“The kids didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm in the first half,” Arntson said. “Saturday morning is a tough time to play after the night before, but we had a little talk at halftime and they came out in the third quarter with some fire.”
Billings Senior took advantage of the depleted Bulldogs and raced to a 14-6 lead when Jordyn Wagner netted a long ball to score three of her 10 total points with two and a half minutes left in the first period. Sara Heard put back a shot in the paint with three minutes left in the half, and the Broncs led 22-11.
Sammy McGree scored five of her game-best 21 points before half – including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer – and Butte trailed 27-18 at intermission. McGree opened the third where she left off in the second, scoring the first two points in an 11-2 run that brought the Bulldogs into a 29-all deadlock late in the third quarter.
“Sammy was phenomenal,” Arntson said. “She was determined to win right from the get-go. She was making plays solely on her own effort and she was not to be denied. Sammy is a great young lady and I’m proud of her effort.”
Erika McLeod came off the bench and scored twice in a row off of effective baseline inbounds passes from Hattie Thatcher. The first brought Butte into a tie with Senior and the second gave the ’Dogs their first outright lead of the game, 33-31.
A stifling press and fierce Butte defense had the Bulldogs rolling, as Natalee Faupel snagged a steal and raced the length of the court for a layup. Faupel, who will move on to MSU-Northern next season, netted 16 points to go with her team-high seven rebounds and four steals.
Thatcher, who will move on to play basketball at Montana Tech next fall, was an effective team leader at the point guard position, and hustled on every possession. She finished with three points and four assists in her final game as a Bulldog.
Butte’s only other senior, 6-foot post Carlie Haeffner provided a good presence in the paint on defense, and finished her last game with three rebounds.
“We’ll certainly miss our seniors,” Arntson said of a team that will play without a Thatcher girl next year for the first time in seven years. “But we’ve got a good nucleus coming back to continue the Bulldog tradition.”
Starter Hailey Hoagland – who tallied four rebounds, three steals and two points Saturday – will help lead the Bulldogs next season, along with fellow juniors McGree and McLeod. Butte High got solid minutes off the bench from juniors Mariah Richardson and Andie Hogan, while sophomore Maria Michelotti adds a solid hand inside.
Senior, which outscored the Bulldogs 19-12 in the fourth quarter, got 16 points and eight rebounds from Jace Henderson along with another 12 points from Marissa Van Atta.
“Billings Senior is a good, well-coached team,” Arntson said.
The Broncs face off against crosstown rival Billings West in the third-place game at 5 p.m.
Butte9 9 17 12—47
Senior14 13 5 19—51
Butte High—H. Hoagland 0-5 2-4 2, N. Faupel 5-13 4-5 16, M. Richardson 0-1 0-1 0, S. Mcgree 9-16 0-0 21, E. McClead 2-4 12- 5, H. Thatcher 0-8 3-6 3, C. Haeffner 0-0 0-0 0, M. Michelotti 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-47 10-18 47
Billings Senior—S. Heard 2-3 2-2 6, C. McNeil 1-2 2-2 4, A. Kieckbusch 1-2 0-0 2, M. Van Atta 3-7 6-10 12, J. Wagner 3-8 2-4 10, K. Gorman 0-0 0-0 0, C. Ferrin 0-3 1-2 1, J. Henderson 7-12 2-4 16. Totals 17-37 15-24 51
Total fouls—BH20, BSR 14. Fouled out—Hoagland. 3-pointers—Faupel 2, McGree 3, Wagner 2. Rebounds—BH 25 (Faupel 7), BSR 32 (Henderson 8). Assists—BH 9 (Thatcher 4), BSR 10 (Henderson 4). Blocks—BSR 3 (Ferrin 2). Steals—BH 11 (Faupel 4), BSR 10 (Henderson 7). Turnovers—BH 17, BSR 20.