By Bill Foley from ButteSports.com
This is nothing new to the Butte Central boys’ basketball team.
The Maroons (13-9) will open their 10th Class A State tournament in 12 seasons under head coach Brodie Kelly Thursday when they take on Hardin (16-5) at 3 p.m. at the Adams Center in Missoula. Bracket
BC advancing to state this year, though, was a bit surprising since this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the young Maroons, who have just two seniors on the roster.
A year after advancing to the semifinals at the state tournament and being hit hard by graduation, BC qualified for state by placing third in the Western A Divisional tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
The surprising Maroons aren’t merely happy to be making the trip, either. BC’s boys are leaving town looking for some hardware to bring home.
The Maroons also appear to be playing their best ball at the right time. Including the tournament, BC has won five of the last six. That run followed a five-game losing streak, the last of which was a loss to Butte High.
BC’s lone loss in that stretch was in the divisional semifinals to 19-2 Dillon, which is a favorite to make a return trip to the state title game.
Hardin enters as the No. 2 seed on the other side of the state. The Bulldogs placed second at the Central A/Eastern A Divisional tournament in Billings. Hardin fell 70-64 to Havre in Saturday’s championship game in the Metra.
Hardin brings a balanced and very-athletic squad to Missoula. At 14.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, 6-foot-2 junior Darnell Lefthand averages a hair under a double-double per game. He scored 18 points in the championship-game loss to Havre.
Clarence Littlewolf, a 5-10 senior, averages 12.7 points per game. Frank TwoBulls and Larry McCormick, a pair of 6-2 seniors, are coming off strong performances at the divisional tournament.
Junior Connor McGree, who has made a strong case for All-State recognition, averages a team-best 16.4 points per game to lead the Maroons.
Cole Harper, BC’s lone senior starter, averages 12.3 points per game. He had three double-digit performances in four games at the divisional tournament, including 18 in the third-place win over Hamilton.
Junior Tanner Kump appears to be peaking at the right time. He posted a pair of 17-point games at divisionals. Junior guard Sam Johnston, who scored 10 points in the tournament-opening win over Whitefish, is coming off what head coach Brodie Kelly called his best all-around game.
Junior Riley Richardson typically rounds out the starting five for the Maroons, who bring energetic freshman Cade Holter off the bench early and often.
Senior Tyler Kump and junior Archie Petritz have contributed all season long, while freshman Dan McCloskey emerged as a 3-point threat late in the season. He scored 11 points in the tournament-opening win over Whitefish.
Brian McGeehan, Tyge Yelenich and Zach Carlson also saw time for BC in divisionals.
All four first-round games on Thursday will be played early because the University of Montana men play North Dakota at 8 p.m. The Grizzlies play Northern Colorado at 2 p.m. on Saturday. That game comes between the morning and evening sessions and won’t throw off the tournament schedule.
The winner of the BC-Hardin game will likely play Dillon, which closes out Thursday’s action against Laurel (11-11) at 4:30 p.m., in Friday’s 8 p.m. semifinal.
Laurel is the defending Class A state champion. The Locomotives also beat Dillon in last year’s title game. Laurel, though, was hit hard by graduation and heads to Missoula with the worst record of the eight state teams after placing fourth last week in Billings.
After looking invincible for two games, the Beavers barely escaped the Mining City with the No. 1 seed from the West after beating Polson in a 71-67 overtime thriller in the championship game.
Senior Nate Simkins scored 25 points and junior Troy Anderson tossed in 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in that exciting win.
The Pirates (16-5), who got 26 breath-taking points from Julian Jones and 20 points and 11 rebounds from Matthew Rensvold in Saturday’s chipper, will play Billings Central (13-9) at 1:30 p.m. Havre (16-5) plays Hamilton (12-10) in the tournament opener at noon.
The winners of that game play in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal.
Butte Central, Polson, Billings Central, Havre, Laurel and Dillon are making return trips to state. Hamilton and Hardin are newcomers.
All of Butte Central’s games will be carried live on KOPR, 94.1 or online at kopr94.net.