After being eliminated from the opportunity to defend its Class A state title, the Butte Central Maroons girls’ basketball team regrouped.
Butte Central kept its third-place hopes alive by defeating the Laurel Locomotives, 59-42, Friday afternoon in the Class A State Tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
Butte Central will play at 11 a.m., Saturday morning with hopes of advancing to the third-place game.
The Locomotives were eliminated from the tournament with the loss.
Maroons coach Meg Murphy said Friday games are tough to play, especially after your team is no longer in contention for a state championship.
“Their spirits are down a little bit and they don’t have a shot to get back into the title game,” she said. “But I thought our kids responded very well. Our bench came in and played really, really well.”
The Maroons made their move in the opening of the second half.
Butte Central’s run began with a 3-pointer from junior Kloie Thatcher. Her trey was the beginning of a 13-0 run, which swelled on baskets from Mollie Peoples, and Olivia Bolton.
Laurel had trouble doing much with the Maroons' man-to-man defense during that run, which gave Butte Central a 44-25 lead. Butte Central ended the quarter’s scoring after senior Emily St. John tossed in a layup from a pass lobbed down the court.
The Locomotives never recovered.
Butte Central was led on the floor by its three guards: St. John, Thatcher and Peoples.
St. John dropped 20 points and two steals, Peoples had 16 points with a team-leading nine rebounds, and Thatcher chipped in 11 points with three steals. Butte Central shot 47 percent from the field, 80 percent on free throws and finished with 21 defensive rebounds.
Laurel is a young squad and coach Amber Griffith gave credit to the Maroons and its guards.
“Hopefully our kids enjoyed the experience,” Griffith said. “But also it’s a good chance to see what it takes to be here year in and year out. Hopefully they’ll reflect on that and then decide to make a choice to put in a little time in the offseason.”
The younger and less experienced Locomotives were able to keep pace with the Maroons in the first half.
The teams swapped the lead in the opening minutes as the Maroons searched for their rhythm. Butte Central began to pull away after St. John scored from the three-throw line, and Peoples hit her first two baskets of the afternoon.
Laurel’s final points of the frame came from sophomore Aspen Cotter at the line with 2:19 left. Butte Central ended the quarter with three points to take a 15-9 lead.
Maroons senior Corbyn Holm was injured during the final minutes of the first quarter after chasing a loose ball out of bounds. She was helped off the court and did not return to the game.
Holm had become a leader in the post for the Maroons as the season progressed.
The Locomotives' best quarter of play came was the second but they were unable to sustain it.
Laurel was led by Cotter, with 14 points, and Clark chipped in nine points. Junior Paige O’Toole led the Locomotives with nine rebounds. The Locomotives shot 29 percent from the field, 48 percent from the free-throw line and had 18 turnovers.
Peoples admitted Thursday’s game against Havre was a tough loss.
“We knew we had to come here and be ready to play,” she said. “We still have a ways to go. It’s not over for us.”