BUTTE — There was a certain sense of déjà vu in the Maroon Athletic Center in the fourth quarter of the Butte Central girls’ basketball team’s game against Hamilton.
Down by seven entering the period — and with the Broncs lead ballooning to 10 with under three minutes left — the Maroons somehow battled back and trailed by four with under a minute left.
Earlier in the week against Belgrade, the Maroons trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, tied the game late and then won it overtime. Against Hamilton, however, Central’s magic ran out.
With 10 seconds left, the Maroons’ Tricia Joyce launched a three-point shot that clanged on the rim and went sailing to the floor. Central was called for a loose ball foul and Hamilton went to the free-throw line, making one to go up by five points. A buzzer-beating layup by Central took the game to its final, a 44-41 win for the Broncs.
Hamilton is undefeated at 7-0 on the season while Central, dealt its first loss of the season, drops to 5-1.
“I thought there was a chance,” senior Maroon guard Kloie Thatcher said. “Once that spark was lit it really felt like something good was going to happen just like it did against Belgrade, but things just didn’t fall our way. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Central trailed by nine in the first quarter after mustering just four points, something that ultimately helped doom them.
Maroons’ head coach Meg Murphy hesitated to call it a pattern, but slow starts and scoring droughts have cropped up time-to-time in the early goings of the season.
“The ball got muffled a bit early,” Murphy said. “We always play horrific in one quarter and for us, unfortunately, it was the combination of half of one and half of two. I thought we played hard in the third quarter, but we just couldn’t buy a bucket at that point.”
Hamilton was led by 17 points from 5-foot-4 guard Tessa Della Silva and 10 points off the bench from Jorden Taggert.
Free-throw shooting was a struggle down the stretch, however, and the Broncs made just one of their final four. Hamilton made just three three-point shots, but were able to thrive in the paint.
Broncs’ head coach Mark Albert was well aware of Belgrade’s misfortunes and likened the two games.
“Butte Central is good about coming back,” Albert said. “It was almost an identical situation. Three and a half minutes left, they’re down 10 and they end up winning the game.
“Our goal was to make better decisions than maybe they did in that game. We still struggled, but we did enough to get it done and I was proud of our kids.”
It was certainly a good win for Hamilton and a tough loss for Central, but Murphy is confident her team will be better as the season goes along. She wants to see her team get in a little bit better shape moving forward, which she believes will happen, and hopes to add a bit of 2-3 zone to Central’s repertoire on defense.
Even better for the Maroons? They’re likely getting two impact players back after the New Year — Bella Sorini and Kailee Murphy.
“We can kind of regroup a bit after this loss tonight and think about what we need to change and what we need to work on,” Thatcher said. “Hopefully we’ll come back as a better team during that first practice after break.”
HAMILTON 58, BUTTE CENTRAL 49
Carter Kearns led three Hamilton scorers in double figures with 16 points, and Hamilton remained perfect on the season while handing the visiting Butte Central boys their first loss.
Tanner Goligoski added 14 points, and Hunter Omlid added 31 for the Broncs (7-0), who led just 37-34 entering the fourth quarter.
Dylan Sestrich led the Maroons (5-1) with 13 points, while Cade Holter and Matt Simkins had 10 apiece.
Central will return from its holiday break with another big matchup, traveling to Dillon on Jan. 4.