By Bill Foley
For a quarter of play Thursday night, the Butte High girls’ basketball team gave Butte Central all the Maroons could handle.
Then the Maroons started to show off their championship form.
Playing at close to full strength for the first time since the season opener, the defending Class A state champion Maroons went on a 31-6 run in the second and third quarters to blow the game open in a 57-32 beating of Butte High.
The win was the third straight over their crosstown rival.
“We just got our butt kicked,” Butte High coach Maury Cook said. “They played a hell of a game. They were prepared, they executed.”
Butte High did better than most teams at containing Butte Central star Mollie Peoples. They couldn’t stop — or even really slow down — fellow BC senior Emily St. John.
St. John scored a game-high 25 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and driving to the hoop, to lead the Maroon, who improved to 6-3 with their sixth win in seven games.
“We didn’t have an answer for Emily,” Cook said. “I thought we played really well on Mollie. Brittney Tierney was lights out. The only time I thought Mollie went off was when we switched to the zone, and Mollie hit a couple of threes.”
Butte Central coach Meg Murphy said her Maroons, who got injured junior guard Kloie Thatcher back from a knee injury suffered in the season opener, played their best game of the season.
She pointed to the return of Thatcher. She talked about the grit, determination and leadership of St. John. What really made Murphy happy, though, was the post play of seniors Corbyn Holm and Caleigh Mullaney.
“Tonight’s the best job we did all season in blocking out,” Murphy said. “Butte High goes to the boys hard. Our kids did a tremendous job limiting them to one shot.
“Corbyn Holm and Caleigh Mullaney had a great night tonight. You’ve got to have good post plays to win championships.”
St. John said playing the Bulldogs brought out the best in the Maroons.
“The atmosphere really gets everything going,” she said. “It’s just fun to play.”
The Maroons never trailed. Mullaney sunk a 15-foot jumper with 7 minutes, 21 second left in the first quarter to put BC up for good.
BC jumped out to leads of 8-2 and 11-5 and 13-7, but the Bulldogs keep fighting.
Bulldog sophomore Alissa Bernhardt scored inside and then hit a 3-pointer late in the first quarter to cut the BC lead to 13-12.
BC junior Olivia Bolton opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer before Bernhardt scored off a nice pass from sophomore Ally Cleverly to cut the lead to 16-14.
From there, it was all BC. The Maroons scored the next 11 points of the second quarter to take a 27-14 lead into halftime.
“We were right there with them,” Cook said. “We get out in the second quarter and we turned the ball over. I swear we turned it over 12 times right in a row.”
BC turned the game into a rout by busting out of the break with a 13-1 run.
“We came out from the half just playing zero-zero,” St. John said.
Butte High fought to the end, but BC was too much for the Bulldogs (1-8) to make it a game.
“Our defense was tremendous tonight,” Murphy said. “They played it to perfection, and that’s going to we’re going to need for the rest of the season.”
The game clearly meant a ton to both teams. Thatcher returned sooner than expected. So did Butte High players Abby Dodge and Kira Mortnesen.
Mortnesen, a 6-foot-1 freshman, bounced back after suffering a groin injury on Saturday.
Dodge, Butte High’s lone senior, played after suffering what was first thought to be a season-ending injury.
The future University of Montana track athlete got doctor approval to play despite having a partial tear in the PCL of her right knee.
“Nothing will keep me out of this game,” she said as she took the floor for pregame warmups.
“She was adamant that she was going to play,” Cook added.
Despite playing through foul trouble, Dodge poured in eight points in her last Butte-Central game. All of her points came in the second half.
Cleverly led the Bulldogs with nine points. Bernhard scored seven, while Tierney tossed in six and Aspen Lovshin netted three. Marti Ludwick, Haley Herron, Kaidy McClafferty, Keely Pochervina, Trisha Ericson and Justise Birkenbuel also played for the Bulldogs.
St. John got the Maroons going with nine points in the first quarter. She scored 13 in the second half.
Peoples scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half. Holm tossed in six for BC, while Bolton finished with five, Mullaney tossed in three, Tricia Joyce scored two and Thatcher and Bella Sorini both netted one.
Cassidy Strizic, Zoe Doherty, Emma Keeley, Tess Riordan and Chin Lin Verona also played for the Maroons.
“Central played us great, there’s no doubt about it,” Cook said. “They were more confident. They were the more experienced team, and they showed it tonight.”
Murphy said Thatcher’s contribution was much bigger than the one point in the score book. Her presence on the court, she said, was huge.
“She just adds so much more to the team,” Murphy said. “The confidence that she brings to the other kids is just amazing. Emily and Mollie just feel that much more confident knowing they can do some things they haven’t been able to do the last couple of weeks.”
St. John said this was one big step for the Maroons.
“Meg, before the season, always says, ‘City championship, division championship and state championship,’” St. John said. “So it’s nice to get that going.”
The Maroons are back in action Saturday when they host Corvallis at 4 p.m. at the Maroon Activities Center.
Butte High is off until next Friday and Saturday when they play host to Billings Senior and Skyview.
BUTTE CENTRAL (6-3) — Olivia Bolton 1 2-2 5, Mollie Peoples 5 1-2 13, Emily St. John 9 5-8 25, Tricia Joyce 1 0-0 2, Caleigh Mullaney 1 1-2 3, Kloie Thatcher 0 1-2 1, Corbyn Holm 1 4-9 6, Bella Sorini 0 1-2 1, Emma Keeley 0 1-1 1, Zoe Doherty 0 0-0 0, Tess Riordan 0 0-2 0, Shea Davis 0 0-0 0, Cassidy Strizic 0 0-0 0, Verona Chin Lin 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 16-31 57.
BUTTE HIGH (1-8) — Alissa Bernhardt 3 0-0 7, Keely Pochervina 0 0-0 0, Brittney Tierney 3 0-0 6, Ally Cleverly 3 2-4 9, Abby Dodge 3 2-3 8, Marti Ludwick 0 0-1 0, Haley Herron 0 0-0 0, Kaidy McClafferty 0 0-0 0, Kira Mortensen 0 0-0 0, Aspen Lovshiin 1 0-0 2, Trisha Ericson 0 0-1 0, Justise Birkenbuel 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 4-9 32.
Central 16 11 17 13 — 57
Butte 14 0 4 12 — 32
3-point goals — BC 5 (Peoples 2, St. John 2, Bolton), Butte 2 (Bernhardt, Cleverly). Fouls — BC 14, Butte 24. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.