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State AA boys: Bozeman Gallatin, Missoula Sentinel reach state final

Troy Hugs
Posted at 10:51 PM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-09 02:09:44-05

MISSOULA — Bozeman Gallatin and Missoula Sentinel will meet in the Class AA boys basketball state championship game after both teams earned hard-fought semifinal wins Friday at Dahlberg Arena.

Gallatin outlasted Great Falls CMR 58-50 to advance to the program's first-ever championship game, and Sentinel held off Helena Capital 48-36 to get to its first title game since 2008. The Raptors and Spartans will tip off at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

CMR and Capital fall to loser-out play.

Bozeman Gallatin 58, Great Falls CMR 50

The Class AA boys basketball state tournament — which has seen regular-season favorites Bozeman High and Missoula Hellgate both go 0-2 —has shown past results don't carry much weight this weekend.

But past experiences are exactly what carried Bozeman Gallatin to a 58-50 win over Great Falls CMR in a semifinal game Friday at Dahlberg Arena.

"Our last two trips to the state tournament, we were in close games like that that we could've won, that we had control and the wheels kind of fell off the bus at the end of the game. We've worked day in and day out practice-wise to put ourselves in the position that if we are in control that we can close games out and at least make safe passes," Gallatin coach Michael Claxton said.

The Raptors suffered a one-point loss to end their season at the 2022 state tournament and a four-point overtime loss to end their season at the 2023 state tournament. The 2024 tournament has brought different results, with Gallatin winning its first-round game over Butte by six points and Friday's semifinal game over CMR by eight.

The free throw line was the biggest reason Friday. Gallatin led 41-38 going to the fourth quarter and then went 9 for 9 from the charity stripe to help secure the win. For the game, the Raptors made 20 of 27 free throws. CMR was 13 of 20.

"I attribute (the win) to the focus and concentration from the free throw line," Claxton said. "It's kind of a cliche, there's a lot of meaning in it, but defense and rebounding win championships, and I think you've got to add on there the free throw line."

Gallatin's Zad Rodarte was a perfect 7 of 7 from the line en route to a team-high 16 points. Kale Fasting added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Raptors, and Jack Repscher had nine points.

Gallatin trailed 27-26 at halftime, as CMR bruised the Raptors for 18 points in the paint in the first half.

"I felt like we were in a pretty good position at the half because we didn't defend very well in the first half. ... They destroyed us in the paint in the first half with eight field goals right by the rim," Claxton said. "I felt like we were in a good position if we cleaned those things up."

CMR had just eight paint points in the second half, as the Rustlers fell into the consolation bracket with the loss. Dean Blair scored a game-high 20 points for CMR, and Ben Cunningham (11 points) and Jonah Van Tassell (10) also finished in double figures.

CMR (12-11) will play Billings West in a loser-out game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Gallatin (18-5) will play Missoula Sentinel for the state title at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

"You never know in a lifetime if you'll have a chance to be at a stage like this to play for a championship, so we're going to live in the moment," Claxton said. "We're going to take advantage of our opportunity, get back to our preparation after tonight and play our best game on the floor in the championship matchup."

Missoula Sentinel 48, Helena Capital 36

Missoula Sentinel learned to work through adversity during a losing streak earlier in the season.

Those lessons learned helped propel the Spartans to a 48-36 win over Helena Capital on Friday in a semifinal game of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena.

Missoula Sentinel boys basketbal
Missoula Sentinel's Holter Schweyen (45) celebrates with teammate Evan Richardson after the Spartans defeated Helena Capital in a semifinal game of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 8, 2024.

"Just the fact that we went through a really tough time (during the regular season), we faced adversity, I think that's kind of what built us into a team that can face adversity in big games like this," Sentinel coach Sam Beighle said.

Sentinel trailed 22-15 after a clunky first half, but the Spartans came out firing in the third quarter. They outscored Capital 16-4 in the frame to take a 31-26 lead into the fourth.

The Bruins didn't go away quietly, though. They rallied to tie the game at 33 early in the fourth, forcing Beighle to call timeout.

"We came into that timeout, I had a plan, a few things to say to them, but a couple of our senior leaders had a few things to say that probably meant a little more than I did," Beighle said. "It was just like, you got a few minutes left to go, and the rest was kind of history on the floor. The best part about the job is when you get to watch your kids make plays like that."

Grady Walker was the Spartans' catalyst all game but especially in the fourth quarter. He converted a three-point play coming out of the timeout with the game tied at 33. Holter Schweyen added a bucket, and then Walker canned a 3-pointer. The 8-0 spurt put the Spartans in control, and they never looked back, closing the game on a 15-3 run.

"There was a different vibe in the second half," Walker said. "We jumped on them early, they tied it, (we) faced more adversity. This wasn't the first time — last time we played Capital we were down nine at halftime, came back and won, so nothing new."

Walker had 25 points, seven rebounds and four steals to lead Sentinel. No other Spartan scored more than six points, but Lincoln Rogers — who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Bozeman in the first round — hit another big 3 late in the fourth quarter against the Bruins. Rogers had five points in the game, while Schweyen and Riley Allen each had six. Allen left the game in the first half with an injury.

"One of our best players and heart and soul of the team, Riley Allen, got hurt, hurt his knee pretty good, ended his season," Walker said. "(That) kind of motivated us at halftime to get it done for him."

The Spartans held Capital without a field goal in the third quarter, as the Bruins made just 3 of 18 field goals in the second half. Cole Dawes paced Capital with 10 points, while Dylan Almquist had nine, all on 3-pointers. The Bruins (9-14) slide into loser-out play, where they'll meet Butte at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Sentinel, which started the season with five straight wins before losing six of its next seven, improved to 13-10 with this win, securing a spot in the state championship game. The Spartans will face Bozeman Gallatin for the title at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

"This is not what I expected out of my first season," Beighle said. "All the credit is to these guys in the locker room. The way they came together, the way they show up every day, the resilience and them coming together is why we're here. It couldn't have worked out any better, but I know they're still eager for one more night like this."

Friday loser-out scores

Butte 51, Missoula Hellgate 47

Billings West 63, Bozeman 59, OT