BUTTE – When Butte Central girls basketball coach Meg Murphy saw her side’s draw for the Western A girls basketball tournament, she didn’t flinch.
Defending state champions Columbia Falls (17-4) presented the Maroons an early opportunity for clarity in their road to the state tournament: Either battling back on the consolation side, or storming to the front of the winner’s bracket, one win away from a guaranteed trip back to state.
“Well, if you’re going to play them I want to play them in the first game of the tournament,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to play them sometime and so I’d rather face them and go from there.”
Where Butte Central (18-5) goes from here is the winner’s bracket, after an 18-point fourth quarter gave way to a 46-42 come from behind win Thursday at the Butte Civic Center.
Trailing 34-25 entering the fourth, the Maroons went to a full court press, forcing frustrating turnovers that quickly chipped away at that deficit.
Tricia Joyce found Butte Central’s pulse to open the quarter, nabbing a steal and pulling up from beyond the arc for the 3. The Butte Central crowd let out a collective gasp as she left daylight between her and the hoop before sinking the shot.
“I think I was just kind of in the moment,” Joyce said. "I saw a little room and decided to pull it.”
Kloie Thatcher and Olivia Bolton added 3-pointers down the stretch, working a 9-0 run to take a 41-38 lead with 2 minutes, 59 seconds left to play.
Columbia Falls got to within 44-42 after a pair of free throws from Josie Windauer with 26 seconds to play. A 10-second call on Butte gave the WildKats hope with 15 seconds left, but the Maroons' defense forced a loose ball, and after the scrum Thatcher hit a pair from the line to put her side on a fast track to the state tournament.
“This completely builds our confidence that any team is beatable,” Thatcher said. “We knew going in it was going to be a challenge; to be able to win that challenge was a big deal for us.”
While Thatcher orchestrated the offense, Butte Central got crunch-time contributions throughout the lineup.
Freshman Allyson Mueller was called on in key moments in the fourth quarter, and her defense helped keep Columbia Falls from regaining the momentum it carried from the start of the game.
“It’s nice bringing in a freshman that doesn’t have a worry in the world,” Murphy said of Mueller. “She’s just athletic and she knows how to have a nose for the ball. She really got our other kids to get going.”
Joyce paced Butte Central with 15 points, Thatcher had 14 and Megan Michelotti scored 11, including a pair of free throws in the final minute to keep the WildKats at bay.
Trista Cowan had 15 for Columbia Falls.
“They battled through it, weathered the storm and they hit shots when they needed to,” Murphy said. “Tricia Joyce hit some big shots and Kloie Thatcher decided near the end this was going to be our game.”
Next for the Maroons is Frechtown in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Columbia Falls will play Ronan in the loser out bracket at 12:30 p.m.
Dillon moves on behind Fitzgerald's 17
Dillon is on to the semifinals after downing Libby in the third game of the Western A girls basketball tournament.
Free throws were key for the Beavers, who hit 15 of 17 from the line. Libby went 2-for-2.
The Beavers leaned on Brynley Fitzgerald, who finished with a game-high 17 points and six rebounds.
Teammate Jordyn McKay added 10 points for the Beavers.
Libby’s Shannon Reny led the way with 12 points.
Up next for Dillon is an 8 p.m. semifinal meeting on Friday with the winner of Thursday night’s Hamilton-Browning game.
The Loggers are in the consolation bracket, where they’ll face the loser of the Hamilton-Browning matchup at 2 p.m. Friday.
Frenchtown takes tournament opener
Alivia Williams willed Frenchtown to a convincing 41-26 win over Ronan to kick off the Western A girls basketball tournament.
Williams finished with 20 points as the Broncs used just a quartet of scorers to keep the Maidens at a distance from the opening quarter on.
Ronan scored just five field goals, but went 14-of-27 from the free-throw line. Frenchtown hit 13 from the field, including 5-of-12 3-point shooting.
Frenchtown, the No. 1 seed out of the southwest, moves on in the winner’s bracket while Ronan will have to battle back on the consolation side.