MISSOULA — In a game between the Missoula Hellgate and Missoula Big Sky girls basketball teams, it was a former Missoula Sentinel player who led the charge.
Hellgate senior Emma Blakely, who transferred ahead of the school year for personal reasons, has been a jolt of energy for the Knights and helped guide them to a 60-44 win over the Eagles on Tuesday at Hellgate High School.
“I just needed a change and needed something different,” Blakely said. “So far, I’m having fun and loving it here. I love the team. I love my coaches. I think this season is going to be really fun.”
Four games in, the Knights are 2-2. They’re 2-0 when Blakely scores in double digits, including the 18 she poured in against Big Sky (1-5) to go with her six assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Blakely lines up at shooting guard, can take over at point guard and has some size at 5-foot-7 to help in the post against smaller teams. She thrives on pushing the ball in transition and can set up teammates with precise passes.
“She’s a great leader,” Hellgate assistant coach Brady Henthorn said. “She really helps pick the other girls up and gets them going during practice or come game time. Just the energy she’s brought to this program, it’s indescribable.”
Blakely was an occasional starter at Sentinel the past two seasons when the Spartans finished as the state runner-up each year. She’s hoping to put to use at Hellgate some of what she learned at Sentinel while playing on a team that included current Montana Lady Griz players.
Blakely's veteran experience is much needed on a team that has six freshmen and played five freshmen during stretches of Tuesday's game.
“I knew coming to Hellgate that I needed to rebuild a program and help them out,” Blakely said. “Winning was not my biggest concern. I just wanted to have fun my senior year. I know I have a lot of basketball experience and can help my team with my experience that I have and just be a leader on the court and a role model for those younger girls.”
Blakely carried the Knights in the first half against Big Sky, scoring 12 points on the way to a 24-14 halftime lead. In the second half, she added six more points and dished out four more assists, the first of which stared a 13-2 run in which the Knights ballooned their lead from 28-19 to 41-21.
Big Sky responded with an 11-0 run across the third and fourth quarters to pull within 41-32. The Eagles continued to battle by forcing turnovers and used a 7-0 run to get within 48-42 with 2:44 to play. It was the closest they’d get.
“They fought hard,” Big Sky head coach Michela Anderson said. “It was super impressive to see them fight back. They battled hard. We need to work on scoring more and get into our offensive sets. We were rushed a bit.”
Up six, Hellgate’s Kinsey Henthorn hit a crucial 3-pointer off an offensive rebound by Perry Paffhausen. The Knights made their free throws down the stretch, and freshman Addy Heaphy drained five of them on her way to 11 points in the 16-point win.
“We let them back in it," Henthorn said, “but we picked up our pace of play and our energy and intensity those last couple minutes to close it out.”
Big Sky’s Corbyn Sandau scored 13 points and Chasity Foote added 11 points to pace the Eagles.
Hellgate boys 69, Big Sky 35
In the boys game, Hellgate build a 36-17 lead over Big Sky on its way to a 69-35 win. The Knights improved to 4-0.
Montana Griz commit Rollie Worster scored 22 points for the Knights, while Abe Johnson added 15 and Dylan Holst chipped in 13.
Dan Morin tallied eight points for Big Sky, and Dylan Broere scored seven.