BILLINGS – The Bruins had won the last two meetings between Helena Capital and Missoula Hellgate, but it was the one just before that the Helena boys couldn’t quite forget.
Maybe now they can.
The Bruins avenged last year’s championship game loss by dethroning the defending champion Knights 51-47 in the State AA boys’ basketball title game Saturday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
The title is just the second in Capital’s program history, the first coming in 1983. The Bruins (22-1) didn’t make it back to a championship game until last season.
“They’re just one of those teams that got in our way this year,” said Capital senior Kyle Nickol, whose team beat Hellgate twice in the regular season as well, neither game by more than six points with one in overtime. “It’s a rematch from last year and it was high intensity. It’s been so great each time this year.”
Saturday’s clash seemed destined for another OT with the teams deadlocked at 36-all with three minutes and change left in regulation. Nickol hit from 3-point range on the next two Capital possessions for only the second Bruin lead of the game.
But you can’t count out the Knights (19-5). Even trailing 48-41 in the final minute, Hellgate put some fear into the Bruins when Tres Tinkle and Devin Bray hit consecutive 3-pointers that cut it to 49-47 with 6.5 seconds remaining.
“We’re just a bunch of fighters. We’re never going to give up, you know?” said Tinkle, whose teammate Brady Henthorn knocked down his own three a minute earlier before Capital’s big lead. “We have so much trust in each other that we’re all going to hit open shots.”
Nickol and the Bruins wouldn’t be denied, though. The guard made both of his free throws at the other end after a quick foul by Bray on the inbounds to officially snap Hellgate’s 14-game win streak.
“We were so bitterly disappointed to be so close,” Capital coach Guy Almquist recalled of the 2013 title game, a 58-53 final in overtime. “… For our guys to hang in there – Hellgate just kept coming at us with three after three after three. If that clock had had another few seconds, we might have been in trouble.”
Neither team led by more than four points until Capital shot ahead on Nickol’s late threes. Hellgate held the lead at the end of each quarter other than the fourth, though not by much, going ahead 9-8, 22-21 and 30-29 at the breaks.
Nickol finished his prep career with 12 points – nine in the second half – in his final game and Hunter Beto and Carson Dummer each scored 16 for the Bruins.
Tinkle had a game-high 24 points, including the first 12 for his Knights in the second half, and grabbed nine rebounds.
“I just needed to be more aggressive,” Tinkle said of his second-half surge. “I just needed to fight through it and cut harder and try and get easier looks around the hoop. The team put its trust in me to try and make some plays in the end and I had trust in them to make plays also.”
Pat Colberg added eight points for Hellgate in the post and Rhett Baerlocher scored six.
Neither team totaled many rebounds – 22 for each club – because of high field-goal percentages and a slowed down style of play orchestrated by Capital that held the high-scoring Knights to 37 attempts. They made 17 for a 46-percent clip.
The Bruins shot 41 percent (13-32).
Hellgate 9 13 8 17 – 47
Capital 8 13 8 22 – 51
Missoula Hellgate – Tres Tinkle 7-13 8-10 24, Dylan Harvala 1-1 0-0 3, Rhett Baerlocher 3-5 0-0 6, Brady Henthorn 1-3 0-0 3, Connor Schenk -0 0-0 0, Devin Bray 1-7 0-0 3, Pat Colberg 4-6 0-0 8, Mark Lebsock 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 17-37 8-10 47.
Helena Capital – Kyle Nickol 3-11 3-4 12, Keeley Larson 0-1 0-0 0, Kyle Harrington 3-4 0-0 7, Sean Mulcahy 0-1 0-2 0, Hunter Beto 3-5 7-8 16, Jason Corne 0-1 0-0 0, Carson Dummer 4-9 8-12 16. Totals 13-32 18-26 51.
3-point goals – Hellgate 5-16 (Tinkle 2, Harvala, Henthorn, Bray), Capital 7-17 (Nickol 3, Harrington, Beto 3). Totals fouls – Hellgate 16, Capital 15. Fouled out – Harrington. Rebounds – Hellgate 22 (Tinkle 9), Capital 22 (Beto 6). Assists – Hellgate 13 (henthorn 4), Capital 10 (Mulcahy 3). Turnovers – Hellgate 8, Capital 6.