GREAT FALLS – A miracle shot, a three, a couple steals and a fifth state title.
Tres Tinkle provided all of that for Missoula Hellgate on Saturday, in the Knights’ 58-53 victory over Helena Capital in the State AA boys’ basketball championship.
Tinkle scored 26 points, including an off-balance leaner to force overtime. He made four steals, taking the final one in for a clinching layup with three seconds left. It was also his 3-pointer that opened overtime, giving Hellgate the lead for good, 54-51.
In other words, he had a day.
Good thing, too, because Capital made two steals and two 3-pointers in the final 25 seconds of regulation, turning a 49-45 deficit into a 51-49 Bruins’ lead, with 10.1 seconds left.
On the ropes, Hellgate turned to its sophomore southpaw. He went coast-to-coast, into traffic and banked home a 10-footer.
“Circus whoop-de-doo shot,” said Tinkle, smiling. “My teammates trusted me to take the last shot. The guys had confidence in me and I just knocked the shot down.”
It was a dazzling performance that offset a gutty one by the Bruins, who were seeking their first state title since 1983. Coach Guy Almquist’s crew fought gamely all evening, with Kyle Harrington hitting three of the Bruins’ eight 3-pointers.
David Lindgren added one of his own with 25 seconds left in regulation, after Hellgate had rebounded a missed three but had a pass stolen by Harrington. Still ahead, Hellgate set up a press-breaker but Tinkle’s inbounds was tipped and stolen.
Capital called timeout, and Kyle Nickol ended up drilling a three from the top of the key. His only field goal of the game put the Bruins ahead 51-49. It didn’t take.
“It’s just mental toughness and we just have to know things will be all right,” said Tinkle, who drove past a screen from Kole Swartz on his game-tying shot. “Good things will happen. We just have to keep fighting and play basketball.”
“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Almquist. “We faced a lot of unbelievable players in this tournament. We had difficulty stopping him.
“What can you say? We played pretty good defense on the play and the ball found a way to get through the net.”
After Tinkle opened the scoring in overtime, Capital closed to 54-53 on two free throws from Harrington, who had 15 points.
Luke Bewley, who had 11 huge points in his final game, put Hellgate up 55-53 with 1:56 left with a free throw off his offensive rebound.
Capital missed a shot on its next possession, rebounded and eventually called time with 37 seconds left. But Tinkle then stole a pass, leading to a single free throw from Dylan Harvala with 19.6 seconds remaining.
Capital’s last gasp ended when Tinkle poked the ball away from Hunter Beto and sailed in for the layup.
It was Hellgate’s first title since 2005. The Knights did it with Brendan Jones suited up but not able to play.
“Brendan got out and we rallied around him,” said Hellgate center Pat Colberg, who had eight points, six boards and a pair of blocked shots. “He’s been everything for us, been a great point guard. I’m just so glad we won it.”
Bewley’s layup off a feed from Brady Henthorn broke a 45-45 tie with 2:15 left in regulation. Henthorn then made a steal that led to a 15-footer from Tinkle with 1:18 left.
That 49-45 lead didn’t take, either.
“They’re going to keep fighting until the end,” said Jeff Hays, Hellgate’s third-year coach. “They don’t give up. We had the ball after a rebound, they get a steal, hit a three. They do it again, after another turnover, hit another three.
“They have a lot of good basketball players. They’re known as a football school but they have a lot of not only good athletes, but good basketball players. And they’re well-coached. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Almquist and their whole staff.”
Hellgate has five state titles, with three of them coming with Hays’ dad, Eric, as coach. He’s Jeff Hays’ assistant now. The Knights shot 48 percent.
“It was just in the game plan,” said Bewley, who was 5 of 7 from the floor. “Everybody executed and got open. I got open for my layups, Tres got open for his … everyone got open and we made our shots. And it was awesome. Words don’t even describe it.”
And Tinkle got them off the ropes.
“When he drove into traffic I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Bewley said. “Leave it to Tres to throw that up and let it go in and send it into overtime. Couldn’t happen to a better kid. It was awesome.”
Capital 9 12 16 14 – 53
Hellgate 11 11 19 10 – 58
Helena Capital – Kyle Nickol 1-4 0-0 3, Marcus Lindgren 0-0 1-2 1, David Lindgren 2-6 2-2 7, Keeley Larson 1-3 0-0 3, Kyle Harrington 4-9 4-4 15, Hunter Beto 3-8 3-5 11, Levi Dawes 4-6 0-0 8, Aaron Gilman 0-1 0-0 0, Carson Dummer 2-6 1-4 5. Totals 17-43 11-17 53.
Missoula Hellgate – Tres Tinkle 10-21 4-5 26, Dylan Harvala 1-1 1-2 3, Luke Bewlkey 5-7 1-2 11, Brady Henthorn 1-2 0-0 3, Hunter Mahlum 1-2 0-0 2, Devin Bray 2-7 0-0 5, Pat Colberg 3-8 1-1 8, Kole Swartz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-48 7-10 58.
3-point goals – Nickol, D. Lindgren, Larson, Harrington 3, Beto 2, Timkle 2, Henthorn, Bray, Colberg. Rebounds – Capital 24 (Dummer 6), Hellgate 26 (Tinkle 8). Total fouls – Capital 11, Hellgate 15. Fouled out – none. Assists – Capital 11 (three with 3), Hellgate 15 (Bray 5). Blocks – Hellgate 2 (Colberg 2). Steals – Capital 7 (Harrington 2), Hellgate 9 (Tinkle 3, Bray 3). Turnovers – Capital 12, Hellgate 10.