GREAT FALLS — At first, Helena Capital simply couldn't buy a bucket. Fortunately for the Bruins, there was a second half.
Dani Bartsch scored 15 points and Capital overcame a dreadful first half to beat Missoula Hellgate 33-31 in the State AA girls basketball championship on Saturday. After a co-championship season last year, the Bruins are outright champs for the first time since 2015.
"I thought we played a little bit scared, tentative," head coach Katie Garcin-Forba said of the first half. "We had some players hit some big turning-point shots. I don't know how these girls managed to do it. They win games. That was just, I'm just at a loss of words at this point."
Photos: State AA girls championship
Defense was the name of the game for both teams in the first half. Hellgate led 5-2 after the first quarter and 13-5 at halftime. The Bruins nearly didn't score in the second quarter, finally managing a layup and a free throw in the final minute.
"We were just kind of freaking out and just rushing everything, myself included," Dani Bartsch said. "The second half, that was a big focus. Stay aggressive but also play relaxed and calm and not so frantic."
The teams matched each other blow for blow in the third, but everything changed for the Bruins in the fourth. Senior Jaymee Sheridan attacked the basket, drew fouls, and connected on eight free throws to finish with 10 points. The shots started to fall for Paige and Dani Bartsch and Capital cut the deficit to 23-21 in the fourth.
Then a crucial sequence followed when Hellgate's Alex Covill fouled Sheridan on a layup. The 6-foot-5 sophomore was then immediately called for a technical foul, her fifth. The Bruins made all four of the resulting free throws, then Audrey Hofer connected on the Bruins' only 3-pointer of the game to put them up 28-23.
Capital never gave the lead back after that.
"This is all that I could have imagined after last year, crying because we didn't get to play in the state championship," Hofer said. "And this year crying because we won, it's a little bit of a different feeling. And I like it."
After going scoreless most of the fourth, Hellgate scrapped to the finish. Lauren Dick scored inside and got fouled to cut Hellgate's deficit to 32-31. But she missed her free throw, and Paige Bartsch rebounded and converted the front end of her bonus free throws on the other end to make it 33-31. Bailee Sayler took a contested 3 for the win, but it went of the front iron.
Sayler finished with 12 points for Hellgate, including 10 in the second half.
The teams split the season series. Hellgate finishes the season 16-2. Capital finishes 17-1.