By Bruce Sayler
HELENA — The place attained was more important than the numbers or the score associated with the Butte High boys’ last basketball game at the Western AA Divisional high school basketball tournament Saturday.
The Bulldogs lost 61-54 to Kalispell Glacier in the third-place game of the divisional tourney at the Carroll College P.E. Center. The result relegated them to a No. 4 seed going into next week’s state AA tourney in Billings. (Stats)
Butte High will tip off against the winner of the Eastern AA, determined later Saturday night, in a scheduled 8 p.m. first-round game Thursday at The Metra.
“It’s great to be going, especially for our two seniors (Kooper Klobucar and Kenley Leary,” Matt Luedtke said after shaking congratulating hands like he was running for office after the game. “It’s so great to be able to take the kids there. All season, I’ve been telling them they were going to make it to state.”
The Bulldogs are going there with a 6-16 record, making them not such likely candidates pre-divisional.
“It feels amazing,” Klobucar said. “There were some doubts when we were losing a lot of games. But, Coach said all season, ‘State Tournament, no matter what – we’ll finish strong.”
The trip to state was actually sewn up with a 60-59 Saturday morning loser-out win over Helena High when Leary sank a free throw, then intentionally missed the second so he grabbed the rebound and hug the last couple of ticks out of the ball.
“It’s kind of fitting that our two seniors came up the biggest in our two games that got us to state,” Luedtke said. “Kooper got the put-back at the buzzer last night and Kenley this morning on his free throw and rebound. Back-to-back one-point wins.”
Fatigue, some relent and satisfaction set in during the afternoon. Butte High still wanted to win against Glacier, but didn’t have to in order to prolong its season. With upsets restacking the Eastern AA Divisional, first-round matchups for the State AA were very much in the question, anyway.
“This game – well, we had two guys playing 30 minutes this morning – so, we rested more,” Luedtke said. “I didn’t want to lose the game, but we played every kid we had and they were in early off the bench. We were learning some stuff and it might pay off for us at the state tournament. So, I kind of had mixed emotions like (legendary former Montana Tech football coach) Bob Green said about watching your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your brand-new Cadillac.”
Klobucar was one regular frequently rested.
“We were trying to get the younger kids some time for varsity next year, and for some state tournament help,” he said.
The Bulldogs had two small leads early, but played catchup or lurked dangerously close to the Wolfpack the remainder of the game.
They went up 5-3 on a Leary 3-point basket, and 8-5 on a 3-pointer by Klobucar.
Connor Sullivan went on a personal 5-1 run for Glacier that put the Wolfpack ahead 12-9 and his team outscored the Bulldogs 6-2 the rest of the quarter.
The Woifpack lead was 18-11 going into the second period.
Glacier built its lead to 12 points, 25-13, after a 3-pointer by Will Salonen and a pullup jumper by Ty Olsen with 5 minutes, 59 seconds left in the half.
Butte High bounced back with an acrobatic scoop shot by Leary, a fast-break basket by Cameron Gurnsey off a Leary pass and a 3-point basket by freshman Tocher Lee.
The difference was 25-20, Wolfpack’s favor, and then expanded to 36-28 by halftime, thanks mainly to a 3-pointer by Tyler McDonald.
Glacier upped the advantage to 12 points again in the third quarter only to see Bo Demarais gun in a 3-pointer and Klobucar sink two free throws to cut the gap to 48-41 after three quarters.
A 5-0 Bulldog scoring run near the end of the game cut the Wolfpack lead in half to 59-54 with 56 seconds left. Reserves Dylan Bache and Garrett Sharp accounted for the Butte High scoring spree.
No more points went up on the Butte High side of the scoreboard, however and Glacier finished up with free throws by Cohen Kastelitz and Kaid Buls.
“We wanted to win, but, most importantly, they needed resting tired legs,” Luedtke said about the Bulldog regulars. “We wanted no injuries, no ankle rolls or anything like that. And, out younger guys did some good things, too.
“But, we’d just played back-to-back one-point games to get to the state tournament. I’m exhausted. I can’t imagine what they must feel like (mentally, emotionally, physically). I don’t care if they are only 16 or 17 years old.”
The coach also pointed to a difficult schedule that included Missoula Hellgate, Glacier, Helena HIgh and Missoula Sentinel in the divisional tourney.
“Anybody and beat anybody,” he said. “These are good teams. So, we’re thrilled to be there (state tournament). Our guys stuck it out. We were 4-and-14 and that can be tough, but they bought into it, the program, and believed me.
“We haven’t had anything, no complaining or anything like that – no internal problems. If you walked into one of our practices, you’d have thought we were 14-and-4.”
Klobucar collected 12 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bulldogs in their consolation final. Jace Stenson had eight points, Leary and Lee each scored seven, Demarais six, Bache five, Gurnsey four, Rueso Batterman three, and Sharp three. Jonas Sherman, Colton Shea and Alex Watson also played several minutes.
“The effort was all-around,” Klobucar said about the positive difference in this team over before. “There was a lot more effort than usual in the regular season. We had a lot of energy, played with adren
Glacier was led by Kysen Wagner with 15 points, Sullivan with 13 and Noah Dowler with 10. Dowler also pulled down 11 rebounds.