MISSOULA — Sam Beighle was always a good shot — it's how he found his way on Missoula Sentinel's varsity basketball roster as a freshman three years ago.
That talent, in another field altogether, also helped him land an elk and deer this past hunting season … even if the deer wasn't as big as the one his younger brother, Finn, bagged a few days earlier.
"… He doesn't let me forget that," the elder Beighle brother deadpanned.
When it comes to knocking down big shots on the basketball court, though, the senior may have no equal in the Class AA. It's why Carroll College came calling for Beighle, who signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Frontier Conference team last month.
Beighle's ability also has his Spartans dreaming of state hardware.
A crosstown game last season against Missoula Hellgate illustrated just how unstoppable a Beighle barrage could be. Then a junior, he scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, including a step-back 3-pointer from a distance most prep coaches wouldn't condone.
But Beighle, who hit the shot to force overtime, changes conventional strategy.
"With someone like Sam who can create a shot so well, you have to give him that green light just because he has that ability to hit from any spot," Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said. "Because he has that ability to create his own shot, he has that ability to make his teammates better.
"It’s just not about him getting shots, it’s about him creating shots for other people."
That's perhaps the biggest difference in Beighle's game from the first time he stepped on the court for a varsity game to now. He admittedly "had never been so nervous" as he was when he came off the bench as a freshman. Sam showed flashes of the player he'd become — he had a game where he dropped 20 points and connected on five 3-pointers — but then the 5-foot-9 Beighle was primarily a spot-up shooter.
His numbers back that up. In the 2014-15 season, Sam was sixth in the state in 3-point shooting percentage and 17th in total made from behind the arc (one spot behind Tres Tinkle), according to mtsportsmemories.com.
The only other category Beighle cracked the top 40 statistically that season was shooting percentage. He ranked 37th.
Beighle quite literally grew from there. Not only is he listed at 6-foot-3 — the tallest player on a speedy and stingy Spartans roster with six seniors — he was a top-10 scorer and rebounder in an all-state junior season.
"He has the ability to play five positions sometimes," Jagelski said. "The kid can post up, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the basketball and he can penetrate."
And his shot didn't leave him through the growth spurt. He led Class AA in total 3-pointers made last season with 53.
Instead of Beighle fighting fits of nervousness, it's his opponents that feel uneasy when they see him suit up, like last Friday. Beighle tallied 25 points in a season-opening win against Stevensville.
"He is so hard to guard," said Sentinel's Gaige DeShazer, a fellow senior on the squad and good friend of Beighle's off the court. "We’ve been going so hard at The Peak (fitness center), practicing our moves day in and day out.
"He does not miss many shots. He’s that consistent shooter which makes him very, very hard to guard."
Beighle's presence on the court coupled with a hungry Sentinel team makes this squad scary, too. The Spartans were state qualifiers last season, but they lost their first two games at the Class AA tournament by single digits.
That team graduated a talented group, including Will Mytty (now at Beighle's soon-to-be rival, Montana Tech), but Sam is excited to play with his senior class.
"… C.S. Porter (middle school) was the only time I played with them," Beighle said of some of his classmates now on the varsity roster. "I was close with (last year's) graduating class, but this team’s even closer."
For a guy that's lethal from long range, that closeness only makes things easier. It's a lesson he was able to pass along to his brother near the end of hunting season.
A few days after Finn, a freshman at Sentinel, brought a bigger deer than his older brother's back to camp, the two were again on the prowl … this time for elk. Sam gave the first — and second — shot to Finn.
"He got to shoot at the bull and he missed it; it was an easy shot," Sam said, suppressing a laugh.
A frustrated Finn then deferred to his older brother. The two crept closer to a nearby ridge and the elk were still there.
"I looked over to the side and there were like 20 (elk) that I had no idea that were there at 60 yards," Sam said. "I guess the rest is history from there; it just happened really fast."
There it was: the biggest shot of the trip.
No surprise: Beighle knocked it down.