HELENA — The Missoula Hellgate girls' basketball team dropped its Western AA divisional opener to powerhouse Helena, 71-24, Thursday at Helena Capital.
The second-seeded Bengals (17-2) advanced to the semifinal round where they will face crosstown rival Helena Capital Friday at 8 p.m. The Knights (3-16) will play crosstown rival Big Sky (3-16) in a loser out game Friday at 5 p.m.
Helena's Paige Aasved led the way for Helena with 14 points, while Jamie Pickens scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. Kamden Hilborn added 10 points and three rebounds.
"We came out all guns blazing and shot the ball well," Helena coach Eric Peterson said. "And it continued all game. Then our defense came up big and helped us get a big lead."
It was a relatively close game after the first quarter with Helena up 19-11, but the Bengals pulled away by halftime at 46-15 and it was 61-23 after three quarters.
The big early lead in the game allowed Peterson to play his entire roster. McKayla Kloker scored nine points, while Payton Aasved and Abby Marcille added seven each.
"The big lead let us to rest our starters for a quarter," Peterson said. "That was important when you are in a tournament. There was no let-down when the starters were out of the game. Shooting for us is contagious. Everyone did a great job."
Hellgate came out from the start with higher intensity than the last time against the Bengals, but wore down against an athletic Helena team. Kylie Lunday was the top scorer for the Knights with nine points and six rebounds.
Easy shots were difficult to find and turnovers were a problem with 24, compared to 12 by Helena. The Bengals ran the court in transition off those turnovers.
"Helena game out hitting on all cylinders," Hellgate coach Rob Henthorn said. "They are a really good team. They came out fast from the start."
Hellgate and Big Sky are both in the same position now, needing to win three games in two days to qualify for the state tournament.
"Hopefully, we can get ready for the next game," Henthorn said. "We can't think about the past. We have to look to next game and go from there. We need to stick together as a team."
Helena Capital 63, Missoula Big Sky 13
The Eagles suffered through a nightmarish first half and never recovered. They trailed by 17 points heading into the second quarter and their halftime deficit was 50-10.
Dani Bartsch led a balanced attack for the Bruins, matching Big Sky's point total with 13. Mai Sandau and Lynell Shepard each scored five points for the Eagles.