GREAT FALLS — The 2021 State AA girls championship will be a matchup of contrasts. On one hand, a team from the Capital City will play in the championship for the sixth time in seven years. On the other hand, their opponent hasn't made the title game in 18 years.
The Helena Capital Bruins returned to the championship after overpowering fellow reigning co-champ Billings West in a "rematch" of last year's canceled title game. Capital also played in and won the 2015 title, and then Helena High won three in a row from 2017-19.
Meanwhile, the Missoula Hellgate girls program advanced to its first state title game appearance since 2003, defeating Bozeman 52-35.
Helena Capital 44, Billings West 26
Paige Bartsch recorded a double-double and Helena Capital stifled Billings West to win 44-26 in the semifinal round of the State AA girls basketball tournament. The Bruins advanced to the state championship for the second straight year after being co-champs with West last season.
Capital head coach Katie Garcin-Forba said her team had been waiting for this day since last year's canceled state championship game.
"I'm so proud of these girls. Their effort, every one of our kids stepped up, whether it was a bench player or a starter," she said. "I just love their effort and how they competed."
Bartsch finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while her twin sister Dani added 13 points.
"This was kind of the game we wanted to come out and work really hard to win," Paige said. "And I thought we did a great job of preparing for them. And it's just awesome to beat them to get into the championship. That's the best feeling."
The Bruin defense held West to just under 22% shooting. No Bears scored in double figures, although Kaitlin Grossman scored nine. West will play in loser-out action against Great Falls High Saturday at 9 a.m.
Capital will face Western AA foe Missoula Hellgate for the championship on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The teams split the regular-season series.
Missoula Hellgate 52, Bozeman 35
Top-seeded Missoula Hellgate used a dominant second quarter to beat Bozeman 52-35 and advance to the State AA girls championship game for the first time since 2003.
The last time the Knights won it all was 1994.
"You got a great group of girls that have bought into the program, and they know that they are not just playing for themselves," coach Brady Henthorn said. "They're playing for their teammates next to them, their families, and the Hellgate program and community. So it's a great accomplishment."
Sophomore Alex Covill had 18 points to lead the Knights, while junior guard Addy Heaphy added 10.
Bozeman led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter, but then the Knights stepped up on defense, holding the Hawks to just five points in the second quarter. Hellgate then poured it on in the second half, growing the lead to 26 late in the fourth quarter.
Bozeman will play Billings Skyview in loser-out action on Saturday at 9 a.m. That game will be played at C.M. Russell High School.
Hellgate will square off against Helena Capital for the crown on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The teams split in the regular-season series.
Billings Skyview 53, Kalispell Glacier 38 (loser-out)
Great Falls High 44, Missoula Sentinel 36 (loser-out)