BUTTE — Butte Central will not be playing for a spot in the state tournament Saturday, because the Maroons are already in.
Kloie Thatcher made sure that ticket was punched in the third quarter of the Maroons’ 37-19 semifinal win over Frenchtown, going on an 11-point run herself to put the Broncs away and see her side into the Western A divisional final.
Browning, which dominated the other semifinal against Dillon, 53-31, will meet Central in the championship game.
Browning advanced in the championship bracket Thursday by taking down Hamilton in overtime.
With the top four teams from the tournament advancing to states, Saturday’s championship game is about seeding. The Maroons knocked off defending state champions Columbia Falls in the tournament opener, and after Saturday they’ll look to get back on top of the state, as they were two years ago.
“These girls just want another trophy,” head coach Meg Murphy said. “The seniors have been to the state tournament every year and they wanted to get back again and get that trophy.”
While the Maroons can’t rest their laurels on their thrilling 46-42 win over Columbia Falls to open the tournament, the significance of the win can’t be overstated.
It set Thatcher and company on a fast track to a state championship berth, ensured the team would avoid an extra game on the consolation side of the bracket, and instilled a level of confidence that this might just be the year of the Maroons.
“It was huge,” Thatcher said, reflecting on the opener. “We wanted to save our legs, winning that game was just a confidence builder for us.”
While Central has a host of players capable of carrying the scoring load, against Frenchtown it was Thatcher who guided her side to a walk into the tournament final.
With the Maroons up 19-14 at the half, she hit a pair of 3-pointers, converted an and-one and then knocked down a pair from the free-throw line. Coupled with an uptick in the intensity on defense, Butte Central built a 32-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Thatcher finished with 26 points and eight rebounds. She hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range and went 6-for-8 at the free-throw line.
“I think I’ve learned more this year that I need to get to the basket,” she said. “I can’t really rely on the 3-point shot. So I’ve been trying to teach myself that I need to take it to the hole more. Attack them, and if I see a lane I need to take it.”
While Butte Central’s lead grew, the Broncs faltered on offense, scoring just five second-half points.
“Our intensity really went up,” Thatcher said. “We wanted to punch our ticket to state and not have to worry about having to play a game (Saturday) morning.”
Butte Central and Browning play for the title at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Hamilton rebounds, eliminates Libby
Fresh off Friday night’s overtime loss to Browning, Hamilton (19-4) punched its ticket to the consolation semifinals with a 44-33 win over Libby.
Libby (14-10) trailed by three points heading into the fourth quarter, where Hamilton scored 17 against the Loggers’ 9 to keep state tournament hopes alive.
Cariann Kunkel led the Broncs with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Jayden Winslow scored 13 for the Loggers.
Hamilton plays Frenchtown in the consolation semifinals at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Maroon Activities Center.
Defending champions advance in consolation bracket
Columbia Falls lost a heartbreaker to Butte Central to open the tournament, but rebounded in its first consolation game to eliminate Ronan, 71-59.
Dani Douglas scored 25 points for the WildKats, and teammate Hannah Geleman recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Micalann McCrea scored 25 points for Ronan (8-15).
Columbia Falls next plays Dillon on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Butte Civic Center.