The heavyweight match between the reigning Class AA girls' state champion Missoula Sentinel Spartans and 2013-14 third place Billings Senior turned into the very slugfest the bill suggested at the Sentinel gym. It was the Spartans who stood the victor on Saturday at the final bell, though, 57-51.
The boys’ game that followed wasn’t nearly as split a decision. The Spartans turned a stifling third quarter defensive effort, where the Missoula boys outscored Senior 13-3, into a 46-35 win against the Broncs.
The win kept Sentinel's girls undefeated at 2-0. The Spartan boys are 1-1.
Sentinel boys 46, Billings Senior 35
You knew defense was going to set the tone for the game from the get-go when it took nearly three minutes for either team to find the basket.
In the third quarter, Sentinel, and its 2-3 zone defense, showed it would be the difference maker. With a slim 23-16 halftime lead, the Spartans opened the half on an 8-0 run, set off by two quick Senior turnovers from Sentinel’s ball pressure.
“Even though we don’t have a lot of height, we have some big guards with long arms, and I think that really affected them getting in the flow of their offense,” Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said.
The offense in the run was supplied by Travis Zander, who hit two of his three 3-pointers back-to-back, forcing a Senior timeout at 4:38, with the Spartans up 31-18.
Sentinel’s Will Mytty put the exclamation point on the period with a monster block on Nate Dick's layup attempt for the Broncs with seconds remaining in the quarter. Mytty hit a first-half 3-pointer, and scored all nine of his points in the second quarter coming off the bench.
“He’s been our ninth guy the last couple games, but he came out and gave us a huge spark with nine points in that quarter,” coach Jagelski said.
Senior guard Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, who led his team with three steals and four assists, and John Mitchell forced Senior out of its own 2-3 zone in the early going, as both launched and dropped in 3-pointers in the first quarter. Zander hit his first of the game, too, to give Sentinel a 9-6 lead at the first break.
“We just wanted to take care of the ball, execute our plays down the stretch, try not to turn it over and just pressure them,” said Darko-Kelly, who also had 10 points. “If a team comes out in a 2-3, we always want to shoot them out of it. We just hoisted up shots and hoped they went in.”
The Broncs outscored the Spartans 16-10 in the final frame, behind six of Mac Turner’s team-high nine points, but it wasn't enough.
Sentinel girls 57, Billings Senior 51
The Spartan girls got Missoula on the right side of the twin bill earlier on Saturday, holding of a feisty Billings Senior team that just wouldn’t go away.
Without 6-foot-2 senior post Taylor Mims, missing due to a concussion she sustained on Friday, the Broncs employed a guard-heavy offense, and they were locked and loaded.
Billings Senior fired 20 3-pointers, making seven, buoyed by Alli Kieckbusch’s 3 for 5 shooting from behind the arc. She finished with 19 points.
“(She’s a) great player, great shooter; she puts in so much time,” Billings Senior coach Drew Haws said. “She’s just always in the right place and can make the open shot when she gets it.”
Spartan senior Lexi Steele hit two free throws, putting the Spartans up 54-48 with under 40 seconds to go, but Kieckbusch again came back and hit her third 3-pointer of the night to keep the Broncs' hopes alive, 54-51.
Another Sentinel senior put the kibosh on that rally, though, as Haley Rogers was fouled after Sentinel took 10 of the final 13 seconds off the clock with a cool-headed press break. Rogers knocked down the two freebies to put Sentinel up 56-51, an insurmountable lead with 3.7 seconds remaining.
“I think it was really crucial (Rogers going to the line). Haley was a big contributor off the bench last year for us and I think it’s just leadership,” Sentinel coach Karen Deden said. “She’s a captain, she’s calm.”
The seniors put the game away, but freshman Kylie Frohlich and sophomore Shannon Worster kept Sentinel in it. Frohlich finished with 13 points, and Worster scored a team-high 18 points, going 8 for 15 from the field, 2 for 6 from three.
“We got down, and it was late, and I have freshmen out there. They’re playing well, but they’re young,” Deden said. “…(But) I have three great guards starting for me with a lot of experience, even though (Worster) is young.”