In a night full of tears and memories, the Butte Central girls basketball team sent its seniors off on a positive note.
The Maroons routed Belgrade in nonconference play for the second time this season with a 57-36 victory on Tuesday night at the MAC.
Coach Meg Murphy said she was happy to send the seniors off with a win.
“It’s an emotional night for those kids,” she said. “… I was proud of them. Belgrade has improved immensely since we played them in December. (Coach Sarah Fowler) has done a great job with them. They might make some noise in the divisional.”
After a stagnant third quarter, the Maroons slammed the door on the Panthers in the final eight minutes of play.
The Panthers once again struggled with Butte Central’s stout defense as they were limited to four points in the quarter. Belgrade’s only points came on six attempts at the free-throw line. Junior Kiah Hohenstein was the only Panther to knock in both her shots.
Butte Central’s guard trio went to work in the early plays of the frame. Senior Emily St. John hit the team’s first bucket two minutes into the quarter. Junior Kloie Thatcher followed up with a trey, and senior Mollie Peoples added her own 3-pointer after.
With 35 seconds left to play, Murphy pulled the seniors and plugged in the Maroons' reserve players as the team rolled to the win.
For the Panthers, odd quarters swung in their favor all night.
Maroons senior Corbyn Holm opened the second half with a jumper, but then the Panthers got on a roll. Belgrade went on a 8-1 run as the Maroons had turnovers and their shots fell short.
Although Butte Central hit only three field goals in the third quarter, the Maroons maintained a 10-point lead at the end of play.
It was a loss for Belgrade, but coach Sarah Fowler was upbeat about the lessons learned.
“This is one of the best teams in the state,” Fowler said. “We played with them for two quarters. So now we just have to figure out to how play four full quarters.”
The Panthers defense limited Peoples to seven points and Thatcher to four points. But St. John drove herself to 16 points, including a 6-for-6 effort at the line. With Butte Central’s guard trio being contained, sophomores Tricia Joyce and Bella Sorini chipped in six and four points, respectfully.
The Maroons got off to a slow start in the first quarter.
Butte Central jumped out to its first lead of the game when Holm knocked in a jumper, and followed it up with a pair of free throws. The Maroons took a 7-4 lead when St. John scored a jumper and hit an additional free throw.
But after St. John’s buckets, the Panthers went on a streak. Neubauer started off Belgrade with a drive through the paint. Belgrade proceeded to go on an 11-0 run as Butte Central struggled to penetrate its man-to-man defense.
In the final two minutes of the quarter, the Maroons got back on track. Butte Central ended the frame on a 9-0 run as it chipped away at the Panthers' lead. When the buzzer went off, the Panthers had a 17-15 advantage.
During the second quarter, Butte Central silenced Belgrade.
The Maroons outscored the Panthers 20-2, opening the quarter on an 18-0 run as two Belgrade players drew their third and fourth fouls. The Panthers' only points of the quarter came from Neubauer at the line.
Peoples started off the scoring attack with her first bucket of the game. St. John added two more jumpers and a free throw. The senior duo continued hitting shots as Thatcher sank a trey to take a 33-17 lead.
St. John and Peoples connected for the last bucket of the quarter as Butte Central took a 35-19 lead heading into the locker room. The Panthers went 0-for-14 from the field during the quarter.
Belgrade was led by Neubauer's 13 points, while senior Krista Brown chipped in nine.
Now, the Maroons shift their focus to the divisional tournament in Hamilton on Feb. 22-25. Murphy said Tuesday’s win will aide in preparation for the postseason push.
“It was nice to see (Belgrade) throw something different at us so I think that helps us a ton,” she said. “Getting to play a few extra kids, getting (Sorini) to play more minutes for us then she has in a while is a huge factor for us. I just think overall you don’t want to go into divisionals with your last game a loss to anybody.”