HELENA — After host Capital High dropped a harrowing boys basketball contest to Western Conference leading Missoula Sentinel in overtime, 52-49, CHS coach Guy Almquist questioned the long-standing supposed existence of the roundball sport's supreme being.
"You know, I keep thinking there is a basketball god," Almquist said quietly, in a hoarse voice, outside the coaches office in the Bears' Den after being edged by his (Sentinel) alma mater. "But right now, I'd have to see him with my own eyes, and reach out and touch him, to believe it ... It's a crime we didn't win that game."
In a seesaw battle that saw four lead changes, seven ties, and the biggest lead of the night at just 8 points, Sentinel went up 41-34 midway through the fourth quarter on Sam Beighle's fifth 3-point of the night.
Beighle finished with a game-high 31 points, going 11 of 17 from the floor, and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
But the Bruins clawed their way back to even things up at 42-all on an 8-1 run, behind Matt McGinley's 3-pointer, two free throws by Peyton Koch and Michael Nettleton's lay-up.
Another Beighle bucket made it 44-42 with 1:45 left, before Capital's Bridger Grovom converted a 4-point play — getting fouled on a successful 3-ball and making the free throw — to give the hosts a 46-44 edge at 1:25.
Then Beighle connected again, and the score was knotted at 46-all with less than a minute. In the waning seconds of regulation, both teams missed opportunities for game-winners, the last by the Spartans at the buzzer, and the game went into overtime.
In the OT, Missoula led 50-49 with 9.3 seconds left. Sentinel had the inbounds, but turned it over when they couldn't find an open man. The Bruins then inbounded, worked they play, and attempted to win it on a final lay-up, but Beighle — who else — was there for the block.
Sentinel's Sam Malikie then iced the game with free throws, and the Spartans improve to 13-2 overall and 8-1 in the conference. CHS slips to 4-11, 3-6.
"We knew it was going to be a dog fight coming into Capital's gym, we had an off night, but the guys kept their composure. And thankfully Beighle stepped up offensively, and then he makes the block of the year for us," said Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski, who played for Carroll several years after Almquist's hall of fame career for the Saints. "Capital is tough, they're going to be a dangerous team at divisionals."
The score was tied at 13 after the first quarter, after the Bruins fell behind 7-0 on the shooting of Beighle and Nick Germer. Grovom and McGinley each drained 3s to get the club even heading into the second.
Sentinel took a 23-18 cushion into the locker room at halftime as the "Sam Beighle Show" continued.
After the break, the Bruins tied it up at 25-all, sparked by McGinley and Parker Johnston. But again, it was Beighle's hot hand that lifted Sentinel to a 32-30 advantage heading into the fourth, and setting up the fiercely played finish.
Next in the scoring column for Missoula were Nick Germer and Trey Kolb with six points each. McGinley and Grovom tallied 14 and 13 points for Capital, followed by Johnston's six counters.
"I'm very proud of this team right now; I knew they wouldn't have two bad days in a row," Almquist said, referring to the 19-point loss to Glacier on Monday. "We were aggressive on both ends of the floor, we did a lot of things right. Beighle is a great player — he had to go 11 of 17 to beat us. And they did not make a field goal in the OT. We didn't do anything special with Xs and Os — just played with a lot of competitive spirit."