The Kalispell Flathead girls hung tough with the defending champs in Missoula on Saturday – for about three and a half minutes.
The Sentinel girls broke open a one-point game by sprinting away on a 21-0 run, closing the first half on a 31-2 roll to flatten the Bravettes 53-25 at the Spartans’ gym.
“The first three minutes of a game are always kind of a time for getting used to it, getting used to what the other team does,” Sentinel senior Olivia Roberts said, “but once we get into our rhythm – I mean with those fast breaks that we try to do – it’s just our game.”
With a few ticks over four minutes remaining in the first quarter, Flathead’s Montana Fountain drained a 3-pointer to pull her team within a point at 6-5 in the Western AA clash. Her squad wouldn’t score again for the next eight minutes.
Sentinel, which has won the past two State AA girls’ basketball championships, improved to 7-0 on the season thanks to its edge through the rest of the first half. A swarming defense that forced 19 turnovers held the Bravettes (0-2 in league, 3-5 overall) to only two more points before intermission while running up the score.
A once close contest went to the locker rooms 37-7.
“I thought different kids stepped up at different times,” said Sentinel coach Karen Deden, whose team saw six players make a basket with four forcing at least one steal in the first half. “It was definitely a defensive game.”
On one side at least.
Flathead struggled to get the ball much closer than the 3-point arc until the fourth quarter when much of the starters for Sentinel (2-0 in league) went to the bench. After starting the contest by making 2 of 5 field goals, Flathead fell into poor shots and missed 26 straight, including 15 in a row to end the half.
With any doubt of the outcome soon erased, Deden’s team started working on facets of the game outside of scoring. The Spartans coasted to 53 points when the total could have been well north of that.
Roberts in particular spread herself across the stat sheet. The 5-foot-11 guard-forward hybrid finished with 16 points, but also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists, five steals and even a pair of blocks.
Maddie Keast added 12 more points for Sentinel, all in the first half before the Spartans laid off the gas after leading by as many as 39. Sam Harper led the Spartans with nine rebounds and Lexi Steele had five assists to go with her five points.
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Neither team scored a point in the first 3:24 of the third quarter as Sentinel replaced the fast breaks with meticulous ball control. From there it was about getting the reserves their shots, but even in a blowout Coach Deden wanted her team competing.
“At any point, they can put some points up and that’s what I told my kids all week,” Deden said. “This is not a game that you can just walk through.
“But I think we came out and hit some shots and put the pressure on defensively and kind of took their steam away a little bit.”
Jenessa Heine led Flathead with seven rebounds and eight points, but two of her baskets came against Sentinel’s second stringers late in the game when the Bravettes were outscoring Sentinel 15-10 over the last eight minutes – a push that stripped the blowout of some of its painful proportion.
Deden called the dominant performance a good lead in to Sentinel’s next contest: A home game against Missoula Big Sky on Tuesday in the first crosstown hoops meeting of the season.
“Crosstown is one of my favorite games to ever play,” Roberts added. “We’ll have a tough practice on Monday to get ready for that and we’re excited to see where the season takes us.”
The Big Sky girls visit Sentinel at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday, the front end of a doubleheader with the boys’ game at 7 p.m.
Flathead 5 2 3 15 – 25
Sentinel 20 17 6 10 – 53
FLATHEAD – Jenessa Heine 3-10 2-2 8, Emma Andrews 0-13 6-10 6, Lizzie Sherwood 3-7 0-2 6, Montana Fountain 1-5 0-0 3, Jessica Simmons 1-3 0-0 2, Stephanie WIlson 0-1 0-0 0, Kelsey Noland-Gillespie 0-3 0-1 0, Tiana Johnson 0-2 0-0. Totals: 8-44 8-15 25.
SENTINEL – Olivia Roberts 4-7 7-10 16, Maddie Keast 4-11 2-2 12, Emily Beach 2-4 2-3 6, Haley Rogers 2-4 0-0 5, Lexi Steele 2-6 1-1 5, Shannon Worster 2-8 0-0 4, Jess Henning 1-4 0-2 2, Sam Harper 1-1 0-0 2, Jill Madsen 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 18-47 13-20 53.
3-point goals – Flathead 1-13 (Fountain 1-4), Sentinel 4-14 (Keast 2-4, Roberts 1-2, Rogers 1-3). Total fouls – Flathead 17, Sentinel 16. Fouled out – Heine. Rebounds – Flathead 28 (Heine 7), Sentinel 38 (Harper 9). Assists – Flathead 5 (Heine 2), Sentinel 14 (Roberts 6). Steals – Flathead 5 (five with 1), Sentinel 11 (Roberts 5).