HELENA — Familiarity and the big trophy brought out the best in each side.
Both Missoula Sentinel and Missoula Hellgate tapped into their tough defenses and go-to shooters. In the end, it was grinding out each possession and team depth that made the difference.
Sentinel walked away with a 59-56 victory in overtime to win the AA Western Conference divisional tournament Saturday night at Helena High.
"We had to come with the intensity and keep going," Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said. "And we did. The guys played hard the whole game."
Hellgate coach Jeff Hays predicted the game would be a dogfight the night before. And he was right.
There were 11 lead changes and six ties. Three players fouled out. Two for the Spartans and one for Hellgate.
At one point the Knights had an 11-point lead. They appeared to be in control until the middle of the third quarter.
What made the defeat so difficult for Hellgate was the two earlier closes losses in the regular season. Hays felt his team was ready for the third meeting.
Rollie Worster had a big game for the Knights with a game-high 25 points and seven rebounds. Six other players scored for the Knights with Kade Lunday next in line with nine points.
"We knew they lean on Rollie Worster," Jagelski said. "We knew he had to focus on stopping him. I think we did a good job, but he still got 25 points. He's a hell of a player."
The Spartans countered with Carroll College commit Sam Beighle. He scored 21 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
Teammate Alex Germer scored 11 points and Brayden Danzinger added 10. Eight total players scored for Sentinel.
However, Jagelski said it was the defense that won the game.
"That kept us in game," he said. "What this proves is were are not one-dimensional. We are five-dimensional. We have five guys on the court who can contribue, and five more behind them. Our second squad came in and won the game. Guys stepped up at the end in the overtime."
Both teams move on to the state tournament next weekend in Billings. The win gave Sentinel the top seed from the Western Conference, while Hellgate is No. 2.
"We will enjoy this one tonight," Jagelski said. "We'll take (Sunday) off and get back to the drawing board Monday. This was a great win, but we are looking for even bigger hardware."
Jagelski likes his team's chances moving forward in the state tournament after the performance in the divisional round. It's the first time back for this tournament for the AA class in more than 20 years.
"This was a great tournament with a great atmosphere," Jagelski said. "We played some very tough games that made us better. They say tournaments like these hurt No. 1 seeds, but I don't think so. It made us better so we are ready for state."