BILLINGS – Only one game stands between the Missoula Hellgate boys and a state championship repeat. It’s also a copy of the same game that the Knights saw in their first.
Hellgate punched out Billings West 57-37 on Friday and will match up with Helena Capital in the State AA basketball championship for a second straight season.
Capital bounced Kalispell Glacier 63-44 in the day’s first semifinal at Billings’ Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, earning the Bruins a second straight trip to the finals and leaving the Pack to settle for consolation play.
Hellgate’s standout junior Tres Tinkle was nearly unstoppable in the first half against West. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 16 points, two 3-pointers and a wicked alley-oop dunk from Dylan Harvala among that total.
West coach Doug Robison decided he wouldn’t let Tinkle hurt his team any more after Hellgate took a 26-19 lead to the locker room at half. Instead, all the rest of the Knights did.
“My big coaching plan was to try and put a little bit more pressure on Tres Tinkle,” Robison said. “You know, he didn’t score in the third quarter, but everybody else did.”
Hellgate (19-4) staked its claim to start the third quarter with three 3-pointers in the first minute and a half. The Knights, who led 35-19 at the end of the flurry and started the game 7 of 11 from long range, never led by fewer than 13 points again.
“They’re open shots; coach always tells us take the shots you know you’re able to knock down – that are open for you,” said Hellgate’s Devin Bray, who hit two of the treys in that stretch to bookend Pat Colberg’s triple. “If we’re moving the ball, passing around the perimeter pretty quick and you’re open, take the shot.”
Bray finished with 10 points and six assists. Most importantly was a zero on his stat sheet, his coach Jeff Hays said. The point guard didn’t turn the ball over once.
Tinkle led all scorers with 20 points, but his teammates filled in the gaps in the second half without trouble. Eight of Brays’ points were after halftime and all of Colberg’s five and Mark Lebsock’s four came in the final 16 minutes.
“Their numbers don’t always indicate how good the players around (Tinkle) are, but we keep talking about opportunities,” Hays said.
West (17-5), the No. 1 seed from Eastern AA, couldn’t keep up with the Hellgate onslaught. Danny Betcher led the team with 15 points and Jared Samuelson added 11, but the Golden Bears didn’t have the same type of supporting cast.
Only four Bears scored in the semifinal.
A hot 3-point shooting team – Hellgate finished 7 of 14 from distance vs. West – could do wonders against Capital and its big interior that gave the Knights fits in two regular-season meetings this year. The Bruins won both games, but neither by more than six points and one in overtime.
What Capital fans will remember was the last time before those that the teams duke it out. Hellgate came out on top 58-53 in overtime of the 2013 state title game.
“Both teams return a lot,” said Hays, whose team will put its 14-game win streak up against Capital’s 19 in a row Saturday. “They’re probably thinking revenge from the championship game last year; we’re thinking they beat us twice this year.”
The title game is slated for 8:30 p.m.