One day after struggling in the divisional semifinals, the Hellgate boys played like the team that steamrolled the competition most of the regular season as they wrapped up a Western AA Divisional basketball crown with a 59-35 win over Helena Capital Saturday in Kalispell.
The top-ranked Knights will be the No. 1 seed out of the West at the State AA Tournament, which runs from Thursday through Saturday in Butte. They'll enter with a 19-1 overall record, 18-0 mark against in-state teams and 3-0 record against Eastern AA teams.
Hellgate jumped all over the Bruins, leading 13-5 after one quarter and building a 34-11 halftime lead. The Knights pushed their advantage to 30 points with 4:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was a vast improvement from their Feb. 9 game against Capital in which they had to hold on for a 47-46 road win.
"In that Feb. 9 game, we got off to a great start, and then let them back into the game in the second half," Hellgate head coach Jeff Hays recalled. "We know Capital doesn't quit, and we have a lot of respect for the Capital players, coaches and program. That game woke us up, and we focused on improving our offensive and defensive rebounding."
Montana Grizzly commit Rollie Worster, a junior guard, scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Senior wing Dylan Holst added 16 points and eight boards as he and Worster combined to outscored Capital 37-35.
The Knights dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Bruins 42-27 overall and 11-9 on the offensive glass. Hellgate shot 46.2 (24 of 52) percent from the field and limited Capital to 25 percent (14 of 56).
"During the regular season, they out-rebounded us at our place, and (rebounding) has been an emphasis for them, and it's been an emphasis for us," Hays said. "We got one or two boards right away and didn't convert, but we just kept that mindset. Then we switched to our 1-3-1 defense and got a couple of deflections and rebounds."
Trevor Swanson paced Capital with eight points but needed 11 shots to do so, making just three buckets.
"There is no shame in losing to a team like that when they are operating on all cylinders, and they are a very tough team to beat," Capital head coach Guy Almquist said. "This game was a learning experience for our team that needs to be able to sustain that level of play for three straight games."
Hellgate girls get 2nd seed
Hellgate entered the divisional tournament as the fourth seed out of the Western AA but will be heading to state as the second seed.
The Knights had upset top-ranked Helena on Friday to reach the title game, but they fell to third-ranked Capital in the championship contest, 43-35, on Saturday.
Hellgate built a three-point lead in the second quarter and led 20-19 at the break before things fell apart. The Knights were outscored 24-15 in the second half, shooting just 21.7 percent (5 of 23) from the field in the final two quarters to finish at 28.6 percent (12 of 42) for the game.
"What we took away from this whole weekend is that our team played tournament basketball," Hellgate head coach Rob Henthorn said. "A lot of players had never played tournament basketball, and now they played three games in a row. We emphasized to the girls to take care of their body, eat healthily and stay hydrated because we knew they were going to be tired come that third game."
Hellgate senior Emma Blakely scored a team-best 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting, while freshman Bailee Sayler added eight points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Capital was paced by Dani Bartsch's 15 points and nine rebounds, and Sydney Sheridan's 13 points. The Bruins shot 41.7 percent (15 of 36) from the field.
Sentinel boys fight back for 3rd place
After getting upset by Capital in the semifinals on Friday, second-seeded Sentinel battled back to earn the third seed to the state tournament with a pair of wins on Saturday.
"Last night was a huge gut-check moment," Sentinel head coach Jay Jagelski said. "Obviously, we would have liked to play in the championship and give Hellgate another shot, but it's not always the best team that wins in these tournaments. It is the teams that grind it out mentally, and I think both teams showcased their toughness (throughout the tournament) and ground it out."
Sentinel qualified for the state tournament by beating Glacier, 62-40, in the consolation semifinals. Senior Scott Malikie scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds, both game highs, while the team shot 61.1 percent from the field and held Glacier to 38.9 percent.
The Spartans followed that with a 50-49 win over fourth-seeded Helena in the third-place game, which featured six ties and 10 lead changes. They trailed by seven points in the second quarter, were down one point entering the fourth quarter and built their lead to five points with 18 seconds left.
Sentinel sophomore Alex Germer scored a game-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Sophomore Tony Frohlich-Fair added 10 points.
Sentinel girls miss out on state
Sentinel's streak of consecutive state appearances was snapped at 16 when it went 0-2 at divisionals and failed to qualify for state. The last time the Spartans missed out on the state tournament was the 2001-02 school year, when girls basketball was played in the fall and 19th-year head coach Karen Deden was in just her second year leading the program.
The Spartans had their season end in a 39-26 loss to Glacier with a trip to state on the line. They built a 22-17 halftime lead but were outscored 22-4 in the second half. Sentinel made just 2 of 19 shots (10.5 percent) in the second half and finished the game shooting 20.9 percent (9 of 43).
The Spartans closed the season 8-12. They were without Lady Griz signee Shelby Schweyen the entire season because of an injury.
Jason Blasco of the Helena Independent Record contributed to this article.