RONAN — It just might be Frenchtown’s time to shine and for the Broncs, a 49-33 win over Butte Central in the Western A Divisional semifinals was certainly something to smile about.
Frenchtown has a trip to the State A boys basketball tournament locked up for the third year and can grab the top seed with a win over Browning on Saturday night. But for the Broncs, who had numerous battles against Hamilton and Butte Central both in the regular season, in the old Southwest A tournament and the Western A divisional, perhaps Friday’s game was a changing of the guard.
For Frenchtown’s six seniors, it was a culmination of four years of work.
“We’ve had all these battles going back, we just feel like over the course of those games and those experiences, we’ve improved so much and we know what it takes to grind out wins like that,” said Bronc senior Cade Baker, who finished with a team-high 10 points. “So late in the game, we showed we can stay composed and put points on the board and play good defense.”
One game away from a top overall seed at the state tournament, there is plenty of credit to go around. First-year head coach Brandon Robbins, who was an assistant under former head coach Mark Quinn for four years, certainly gets some.
Frenchtown is playing at a high level on both sides of the ball and seemed remarkably efficient on offense. There were still missed plays and turnovers, but the Bronc ball movement led to success against Butte Central’s vaunted man-to-man defense.
Ten players scored for the Broncs, which was partly by design.
“Our biggest thing was body and ball movement, especially away from (the ball) so that way we make all five of their guys defend all five of our guys,” Robbins said. “Their defense is built with, you try to dribble too much or go one on one, you’re not going be very successful, we really just preach sharing it and trying to get some kids in some different spots and different actions where they had some gaps to attack.”
It worked and as the game wore late into the third quarter, the Maroons started to get frustrated. Missed and forced shots as well as a breakdown in ball movement all contributed to a host of empty possessions for Butte Central.
Shots were not falling either, making it a frustrating afternoon for a squad that finished third at the state tournament a year ago.
“It was a game where we hang our hat on defense, our defense could pick up for how poor our offense was,” Butte Central head coach Brodie Kelly said. “It was just disastrous in every regard … We just weren’t in any rhythm. We hang our hang hat on motion, ball movement, togetherness, and it just was not the case at all today.”
Braden Harrington led the Maroons with 13 points, while Jared Simkins added 9. The Maroons hit just two 3-pointers and made only 3 of 12 free throws.
Butte Central fell into the consolation bracket to face Hamilton, while Frenchtown will play Browning for the Western A championship.
“Everything we’ve done to this point, they’ve earned,” Robbins said. “I’m just lucky to be a part of it. The progress we’ve made throughout the season and growth, both on the basketball court and growing up and everything … it culminated tonight. We’re happy where we’re at, but we’re hungry to keep this thing going.”
Browning 68, Whitefish 39
Riley Spoonhunter just can’t stop scoring.
Browning's senior guard had 27 points — 20 of which game in the first half — in a 68-39 rout of Whitefish that puts the Indians in the Western A Divisional finals. Spoonhunter was brilliant before sitting the fourth quarter, hitting four 3-point shots and also dishing out assist after assist.
“He’s such a competitor. He wants to beat you at tiddlywinks, it doesn’t matter what it is, he wants to win,” Browning head coach Daniel Connelly said. “It permeates through the whole team. Everybody feeds off it. Today you could see it, he got us going.”
In front of a large, loud and passionate crowd at Ronan High School, the energy was there from the tip for the Indians.
Browning got off to a 16-7 start, but it was a 12-2 run to end the half that helped sink the Bulldogs. Spoonhunter started and ended the run with 3-point shots, the second of which just beat the halftime buzzer.
Spoonhunter recently hit 1,500 points between Heart Butte and Browning and has been a key part of Browning's success. Entering the championship game against Frenchtown, the Indians are 16-4 and a strong contender for the state championship.
A trip to state is already booked and beating Frenchtown for the top seed out of the west would go a long way.
“Since the season ended last year, that’s been the goal,” Connelly said. “It started this summer. These guys were in the gym all summer. We played about a 30-game schedule this summer. We went everywhere. They’ve been working hard in the weight room, just getting ready for this moment.
“We’re right there and they’re hungry.”
Blayne DeRoche added 16 points for the Indians, while Jayce Cripe led Whitefish with 11.
Browning will play the Broncs at 6:30 p.m. for the title, while Whitefish advanced to a loser-out game against Polson at 9:30 a.m.