After a thrilling district tournament over the weekend, the Bulldogs’ season will live on into divisionals.
The Dogs finished fourth overall in the Whitefish-hosted tournament after beating Ronan but falling to Polson and Libby. The top four teams in the tournament advance to divisionals this week in Hamilton.
Despite having a spot in divisionals locked in by Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs ended the tournament on a sour note in an overtime loss to the Loggers.
Whitefish held a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but saw the lead slip after taking Lee Walburn out of the game after his fourth foul.
A Ryggs Johnston three cut the lead to two with 20 seconds to go, and Dillon Botner had a chance with 14 second left to extend the lead to four from the free throw line.
Botner couldn’t connect, however, and on the ensuing possession Walburn chased Johnston right into a Libby screen with seconds remaining and picked up his final foul.
That sent Libby’s JJ Davis to the line, who hit both to tie the game.
Things didn’t go Whitefish’s way in OT.
After trading buckets for most of the extra period, the Bulldogs sent Libby’s Caden Williams to the line.
Down two points, Whitefish needed a break, and they got it in a pair of misses by Williams.
The two teams got tied up on the rebound of the second free throw, however, and possession went to Libby on the called jump ball.
The Loggers closed the game out with free throws for the 65-59 win.
Botner led the Dogs in scoring with 22, while Walburn scored 15. Libby’s Johnston scored 17 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter an overtime.
Head coach Scott Smith said nothing changed defensively in the second half, but Johnston got hot.
“Ryggs is Ryggs, any time he steps inside the halfcourt line you have to defend him because if not he’s within his range,” Smith said. “We just didn’t do a good job of jumping out when they screened and when we switched we just gave him a little too much room.”
Likewise, having Walburn out when they needed his scoring most in overtime didn’t make matters easier.
“It’s huge, anytime you have your best player sitting on the bench it’s not a good thing,” Smith said. “When you don’t have him in there we’re just going to have to pick up the tempo or pick up the scoring with somebody else. Down the stretch they made some shots and we didn’t.”
The Bulldogs faced elimination earlier in the day during an overtime thriller against Ronan.
It was a game of runs for both teams. The Chiefs opened the game on a 13-3 run to take all the momentum early.
Whitefish responded with a run of their own, outscoring Ronan 10-4 in the remainder of the quarter to trail 17-13 after one.
Ronan opened their lead up to 11 with 3 minutes remaining in the half, but the Dogs responded again to bring their deficit to just 28-27 at the half.
Ronan pushed their lead back up to nine before ending the quarter tied 44 apiece.
Down 56-54 with less than two minutes to go in regulation, Walburn found Botner for an easy bucket to tie the game. Walburn had a shot to put his team ahead with 26 seconds to go after getting fouled on a jumper from the elbow, but couldn’t put either of his free throws in.
Ronan’s Bush missed a shot at the buzzer and in their second straight match up the Dogs and Chiefs were headed to overtime.
With his senior season on the line, Ryan Kemm showed up in overtime. Kemm scored five of his 13 points in the extra period and assisted on a key Botner score to push the Dogs ahead.
Whitefish closed the game out on free throws for the 71-62 win. Walburn finished with a game high 30 points while Botner scored 14. Sam Menicke contributed a big nine points off the bench as well.
That win came off a disappointing start to the tournament for Whitefish, who dropped their opening game to Polson 57-40.
The Pirates led 29-20 at half thanks to a Robin Erickson fade away three at the buzzer. That lead only grew in the second half, with Polson outscoring the Dogs 20-9 in the third to take control of the game.
A Walburn dunk off a fast break wasn’t enough to spark Whitefish’s offense in the fourth, and Polson held a double digit lead for the easy victory.
Walburn had 17 in that game.
Now it’s onto the Western A Divisional Tournament, where the Bulldogs will get their third crack at Southwest A top seed Hamilton. The teams have split the two games played this year.
Smith said he’s liking the attitude his team is bringing to the gym, and he hopes that travels with them to the Bitterroot.
“Yesterday was our best practice of the year. The kids have a positive attitude. They feel in their mind they can go down there and win and a lot of it is up to them on how hard they play The seniors know this is the last hurrah here and could be their last games. They are kind of the catylast as far as how everybody else plays. If they’re going 100 miles an hour and playing with intensity then the rest of the kids will follow.”
As far as matching up with Hamilton, Smith said they present a number of problems for a defense.
“They’ve got the best all around group of shooters that we’ll have faced all year. They’ve got four kids on the floor at all times that can shoot the ball extremely well, so we’re going to have to get out on everybody,” he said. “They’re extremely athletic, so we’ve got to make sure we’re getting back defensively. We’ve got to play every possession like it’s our last and if we do that I think we can be in this ballgame, but if we don’t then we could get ourselves in trouble.”
Libby 12 10 10 18 15 — 65
Whitefish 12 13 17 8 9 — 59
WHITEFISH — Jayce Cripe 6, Bode Smith 2, Justin Conklin 3, Sam Menicke 2, Ryan Kemm 9, Lee Walburn 15, Dillon Botner 22.
Whitefish 13 14 17 12 16 – 72
Ronan 17 11 16 12 9 – 65
WHITEFISH – Jace Cripe 2, Mark Anderson 4, Sam Menicke 9, Ryan Kemm 12, Lee Walburn 30, Dillon Botner 14.