A year ago, the Butte High girls basketball team opened the floodgates in the second half against a state tournament-caliber Central squad, stormed back from a double-digit deficit and seized their first City Championship in three years.
After trailing by 13 points at the break, the Bulldogs — propelled by a 19-point second-half from Haley Herron — rallied to seal a dramatic 57-51 win.
For Butte head coach Maury Cook, now in his fourth season guiding the Bulldogs, it was his first victory over Central.
Earning that comeback win, and doing it against a then-senior loaded Central squad that was spearheaded by all-state point guard Kloie Thatcher — now off to a torrid start in her freshmen year at Rocky Mountain College — was reason for celebration.
“Our kids were ecstatic with that win," Cook said. "Central was such a good team and everyone knew just how good Kloie was."
With no seniors lost to graduation last year and the Bulldogs showing promise as the final month of the regular season approaches, Butte will be looking for an encore performance when they square off once again against their crosstown foe on Thursday evening at the Butte Civic Center.
The first step in what the Bulldogs hope will be consecutive victories over Central? Not overlooking their opponent.
While only two seniors dot Central’s roster this season, Cook said he and his squad are being cautious to not look at the Maroons as young or inexperienced.
“We threw all that out the window,” Cook said. “Meg (Murphy) will have those kids ready to play and that will be an all-out battle. We’re excited for it.”
Countering what Cook knows will be a well-prepared Central team will be a cohort of battle-tested senior guards in Ally Cleverly, Brittney Tierney and Aspen Lovshin. The trio have evolved into a fluid offensive force — with all three logging multiple double-digit performances this season — and a reliable foil on defense.
Outside of a pair of early-season defeats — including a Game 1 closer-than-it-looked loss to defending Class AA champion Helena — the Bulldogs have otherwise found consistent footing on the hardwood.
Included in that run of success was a 48-37 win over Great Falls CMR in which the Bulldogs exacted a measure of vengeance after the Rustlers ousted Butte from the Eastern AA tournament to clinch the final state berth last season.
Not long after, Butte went on to stun then-undefeated Billings West at home, pulling out the win by way of a 48-46 thriller to shock the mighty Golden Bears.
The Bulldogs seem to have turned a corner, and their coach had a phrase for what his team has done.
“We like saying ‘trending upward,’” Cook said. "Our kids are really working hard. Defensively we’ve done a really good job and offensively we’ve started to get into a better rhythm."
Butte hopes to rekindle the spark that led them to a drought-ending win last season. The path to doing that is clear.
"We're gonna have to play our best game to get a victory," Cook said.