MISSOULA -- On Saturday night the Missoula Hellgate Knights and Helena Capital Bruins boys basketball teams met in the Western AA divisional championship game. After a closely contested first few minutes, the Hellgate Knights went on a run to build a double-digit lead and never let the Bruins get within seven points as they stayed unbeaten with a 63-45 win.
In the first quarter Capital began the scoring with a bucket from Shane Haller, but Hellgate settled in quickly, took the lead and never trailed the rest of the game. In the first, Hellgate outscored the Capital Bruins 14-9 behind a strong start from Hellgate center Abe Johnson. Johnson finished the game with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field.
In the second quarter, Hellgate once again outscored Capital 14-11. In the final seconds of the half, Capital trailed by 11 until Brayden Koch hit a 3-pointer from the logo to bring the deficit to eight points. Koch finished with six points.
In the third quarter, Capital hung right with Hellgate, outscoring the Knights 12-11 behind key buckets from Parker Johnston and Shane Haller. Johnston finished the game with eight points, while Haller added a team-high 12.. However, Hellgate still took a 39-32 lead into the fourth and final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Hellgate turned on the jets and outscored Capital 24-13 behind solid performances from seniors Cam LaRance and Rollie Worster. LaRance finished the game with 13 points, and Worster added a game-high 19.
"It can be one or two plays to start the second half that can swing the momentum," said Hellgate head coach Jeff Hays. "I thought we were sharp defensively both halves, both games coming out of the gate to get that separation. But we've got a competitive group and we just have to make plays to win."
While Worster has been the leading scorer on Hellgate and in Class AA all season, he had lots of praise for his team's defense and ability to keep them in games.
"Even (Saturday) we weren't hitting as many shots, a couple of us were off early," said Worster. "We just kept moving the ball and playing as a team, and our defense really pressured the ball, getting steals and just creating havoc."
As a team, Hellgate went 22 for 52 from the field and 6 for 21 from beyond the arc. Capital combined to finish 14 for 45 from the field and 3 for 17 from 3-point range.
Hellgate now heads to the state tournament next week as the No. 1 seed out of the West.
"It feel very good right now," said Hays. "This is a very tough conference, we've got great players, great coaches and I think (Saturday) epitomized that. We have the utmost respect for Capital. That was a dog fight, both teams competed very hard and it was a fun basketball game to be a part of."