HELENA — For the fifth consecutive year, the Capital High girls are headed to the State AA Basketball Tournament after beating Missoula Hellgate 43-29 in a Western Conference playoff game on Friday.
After opening with a 4-0 lead on baskets by 6-foot-2 post Taylor Sullivan and Megan Lindbo in the Bears' Den, No. 3 Capital never trailed in the contest, although the No. 6 Knights kept it close until midway through the fourth quarter.
Capital was ahead by just seven in the final frame, 29-22, before ripping off a 7-0 run -- on buckets by Lindbo and Sydney Sheridan, and the second of Ayanna Syvrud's two bombs from 3-point land -- that basically put the game on ice.
The Lady Bruins will enter the State tourney with a 14-7 record, while Hellgate's season ends at 9-14.
Sullivan, Capital's leading scorer at 11.4 points per game, was held to just four points, so the Lady Bruins relied on their No. 2 weapon, Sheridan, to pace the offense. The sophomore guard netted a game-high 11 points, followed by Syvrud with eight.
"Hellgate converged on Taylor; they plugged up the inside and took her out of the game," said coach Bill Pilgeram, who has now guided the Lady Bruins to Big Show 10 of his 11 years at the helm. "So we had to be patient and move the ball around more, and wait for our opportunities."
CHS took its first 10-point lead to start third, 24-14, on a bucket by Sheridan, but then the Knights went on a 4-0 run, as Sydney Riddle converted an old-fashioned, three-point play to get the visitors to within six, 24-18. That was as close as they'd get, when Shelby VanHemelryck's trey put the home team back on top 27-18.
Meanwhile, Hellgate had trouble connecting on the offensive end, hitting on just 29 percent (11 for 38) of its shots from the field.
"A lot of that had to do with Capital," Hellgate coach Rob Henthorn said. "Their game plan caught us off guard. We depend on a couple of our best shooters to score, and when they took those girls out of our offense, we needed some others to step up, and that didn't happen.
"But our defense worked hard and played great, and I was proud of how we kept the game close until the end, despite missing all those shots. Capital is a well-coached team, they play great defense, and they should do well at State."
Riddle netted 10 points for Hellgate, while Maddie Hamilton had five markers. Teammate Kylie Lunday posted five rebounds.
For the brown-and-gold, Kacie Gross scored five points, ahead of three other teammates with four points.