HELENA — Capital High’s girls basketball team entered Thursday’s divisional tournament with the best defense in the state. And, not that they needed to prove it, but it showed.
The No. 3-seed Bruins held No. 6-seed Missoula Big Sky to a season low in points, defeating the Eagles 63-13 in the first round of divisionals at Capital High. Capital moves on to a crosstown rematch against Helena High on Friday.
“We wanted to come out and play well and play with confidence and we did that,” Bruins coach Bill Pilgeram said. “I wanted to play a lot of bodies and a lot of girls because we’re going to play three games in three nights, and we were able to do that.”
The Eagles scored half their points in the first few minutes before the Bruins buckled down and went on a scoring rampage. After Capital led 6-5 with six minutes left in the first quarter, the Bruins closed the quarter with a 24-7 lead, getting major contributions from every member of the team.
In the second quarter, the Bruins shuffled in many members of the team, including many underclassmen who didn’t miss a beat. Capital’s rapid scoring pace actually increased in the second period, as a buzzer-beater from Madi McMahon gave Capital a 50-10 lead at halftime, which was Capital’s largest lead of the game.
“I thought the young girls came off the bench and kept things going and kept the momentum going just like we wanted,” Pilgeram said. “I was very happy with our effort. Now the key is keep that momentum going into tomorrow night.”
With a running clock expediting the second half, Capital cruised while Big Sky could only wonder what happened to its offense.
“They can score more than 13 points easy,” Big Sky coach Michela Anderson said. “They have to relax and put the ball in the hole and shoot like I know they can.”
Freshman Dani Bartsch led all scorers with 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, and added in nine rebounds.
Mia Sandau and Lynell Shepard led the Eagles with five points each.
The Bruins shot 61 percent from the field and held Big Sky to nine percent.
Capital’s romp closed a day of AA hoops in Helena, as the Queen City played host to the boys Western AA divisional tournament. Both coaches enjoyed the atmosphere and excitement the tournament generated.
“It was exciting tonight to see all six teams in one building playing and all the crowd here,” Pilgeram said. “That’s one of the big things about tournaments is the condensed atmosphere and everybody here and all the fans. It adds more excitement. Hopefully we can build on the momentum, build on that excitement and keep it going.”
Said Anderson: “I hope my kids are enjoying it. I hope they come out and decide to play better and put the ball in the hole tomorrow. I mean plain and simple. We have to score the basketball tomorrow.”
All of Thursday’s action was a prelude to round three of crosstown. Both Capital and Helena High won on Thursday, setting up a divisional rubber match on Friday.
“I think shooting percentage is the big stat I’m going to look at tomorrow,” Pilgeram said. “When they’ve won big games, when they beat us and beat Sentinel, they’ve shot well. We want to obviously hold them down and defend them better than we did last time.”
Capital and Helena High split the regular season series 1-1, with Helena High winning the latter game. The Bengals won 49-39 on Feb. 19.
“Give credit to them,” Pilgeram said. “They just out executed us last time. We just want to put the ball in the hole on our end. I think tomorrow is going to be about who can score points.”
And in a third meeting, Pilgeram expects each team’s identities to remain true. Capital will try to catch the Bengals off guard, but the core tenets of what pushed Capital and Helena High as two of the best teams in the state will still be the main factors on Friday.
“I think there’s always little wrinkles that might be worth one or two baskets,” Pilgeram said. “But the game-changing things haven’t changed. It’s going to be the team that defends the best, limits their turnovers, wins the rebounds.”