MATTHEWS – The first time Butler and Myers Park played in mid-December of last year, the Bulldogs were reeling.
They had just lost their third straight game to 3A power Cuthbertson but more importantly, they had lost starter Michaela Funderburk to a season-ending injury.
Despite a furious fourth-quarter rally, the Bulldogs lost to Myers Park by 12 points on Dec. 10 as Mustang star Taylor Henderson made everything look easy, finishing 10-of-16 from the field and with 26 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
That left Butler, the defending NCHSAA 4A Western Regional champions, with a 2-5 record and lots of questions.
Fast forward to Jan. 31 and much has changed.
The teams entered the game with Myers Park unbeaten in Southwestern 4A play with the Bulldogs just a game back in the loss column.
If there was a must-win regular season game, this was it.
And Butler played like it from the opening tip.
“We all bought in,” said senior point guard Peyton Sutton. “We played some box, we played some 2-3, some press and we played some man. We did a really good job with all of that tonight.”
Sutton speaks to the number of different looks the Bulldogs used throughout the game, with most of the attention directed toward Henderson.
Butler had used a box-in-one on her effectively last year. It worked well again as Henderson scored eight of Myers Park’s first 10 points, but she didn’t score in the third quarter and finished with 16. The Bulldogs beat the Mustangs 46-41 despite shooting just 33% from the field, 11-22 from the free throw line and a woeful 1-of-19 from 3-point range.
“She earned those 16. I think Jada Tate did a hell of a job. She went in and got us going,” Butler coach Mark Sanders said. “The defense was special through three quarters. We knew they were going to crash the boards, but we did a good job of boxing out, helping and playing hard. Defense was what got that lead. We played good defense there and were able to get some easy transition buckets. It wasn’t the plays we called, it was that they bought in and played defense.”
The turning point came late in the second quarter when Henderson went out with her second foul. The Bulldogs went on an 8-2 run, turning a 14-14 tie into a 22-16 Butler halftime lead they would never give back.
“We have seven (players), so they’re going to play the whole game,” Sanders said. “It was toward the end of the second quarter when we thought they’d be getting tired, but they dug in.”
Myers Park would make a run to open the fourth quarter, cutting a nine-point deficit to just one with an 8-0 run to open the period, but they would get no closer.
Sutton led the Bulldogs with 12 points and added four points, four rebounds and four assists.
Michaela Lane added 10 points but dominated inside with 15 rebounds and four blocks.
The win ties Butler and Myers Park at 9-1 in league play, just one game up on Independence (8-2) who both the Mustangs and Bulldogs still must play.
“We have to win out and hopefully someone is going to upset [Myers Park] or we’ll be co-conference champions,” Sanders said. “But we’ll take care of business in the conference tournament.”
After their sluggish start, the Bulldogs are back where many figured they’d be after now winning eight in a row and 11 of 13 since the last loss to Myers Park.
“It gives us a lot more hope,” Sutton said. “We started a little rough, but we have our momentum back and we’re looking to build on that.”