BUTTE — The State AA girls tournament kicked off at the Butte Civic Center on Thursday with four opening round games. All four top placers from last year's tournament were in this year's field, including defending state champion Billings Skyview and runner-up Missoula Hellgate.
Missoula Hellgate 64, Bozeman Gallatin 52
Last year's State AA runner up is now one win from returning to the champion game.
Chloe Larsen notched a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds and Alex Covill added 21 as the Knights grabbed an early lead and never trailed again as they held off a Raptors squad appearing in its first-ever state tournament game.
The Knights grabbed a 20-13 lead after one quarter and led 33-24 at halftime. Gallatin hung around and was able to whittle Hellgate's lead down to single digits a few times in the second half but couldn't close the gap.
Alix Mund added 10 point for Hellgate. The Raptors were led by 18 points from Emma Hardman, 11 from Jada Davis and 13 from Novelle McQuiston.
Billings West 52, Missoula Sentinel 26
The Eastern AA champion Golden Bears rolled on and into the semifinals where they'll face Missoula Sentinel on Friday evening.
Layla Baumann scored a game-high 18 points and Kourtney Grossman added 11 as the Bears led just 8-4 after one quarter but pulled ahead to take a 23-10 lead over the Spartans into halftime.
Sydney Pierce added 9 points and 8 rebounds for West.
Sentinel, the fourth seed out of the Western AA, was held without a double digit scorer. CC Size and Emily McElmurry led the Spartans with 5 points apiece.
The Spartans will face Gallatin in a loser-out game Friday.
Billings Skyview 44, Missoula Big Sky 37
The defending Class AA champions had to fight to put away the third-seeded Eagles, but the Falcons got the job done and are now one away from consecutive championship appearances.
Gatorade Montana Player of the Year Breanna Williams turned in a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Alexis Brauer added 11 as Skyview built a double-digit halftime lead, watched as Big Sky chipped away in the second half to eventually tie the game and then pulled away late in the fourth to keep the Falcons' repeat championship hopes alive.
Skyview held Big Sky to 2 first-half points and led 22-10 at halftime. The Eagles then outscored the Falcons by 10 points in the third quarter to setup a dramatic finish where some late points from Williams helped Skyview lock up the win.
Charlize Davis added 9 points for the Falcons. Big Sky got 19 points from Kaydynce Couture and an 8-point, 11-rebound performance from freshman Avory DeCoite.
Kalispell Flathead 48, Bozeman 37
The Western AA champion Bravettes kept the Hawks at arms length through the duration of the final opening round game to keep the quarterfinals upset free and setup a semifinal showdown between Flathead and Skyview.
The Bravettes led 18-7 after one quarter and 24-14 at halftime. The Hawks, which pulled out some upsets in the consolation bracket of the Eastern AA divisional, were never able to close the gap.
Flathead's Kennedy Moore led the game with 14 points and added 6 rebounds. Avery Chouinard — who hit the walk-off triple to upend top seeded Missoula Hellgate in the Western AA championship — added 12 points for the Bravettes and Akilah Kubi had 9.
The Hawks were led by a double-double from Avery Burkart who had 12 points to go along with 14 rebounds. Tailyn Black added 8 points for Bozeman who falls into a loser-out game against Missoula Big Sky.