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State AA girls: Stars shine bright to lead Billings Skyview, Missoula Hellgate into championship

Missoula Hellgate girls basketball
Posted at 7:23 PM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-08 23:23:53-05

MISSOULA — Billings Skyview and Missoula Hellgate will meet for the Class AA girls basketball state championship after both teams won semifinal games Friday at Dahlberg Arena.

The Falcons rallied past crosstown rival Billings West 53-45 in the first semifinal, and Hellgate defeated Bozeman Gallatin 46-37 in the second.

Billings Skyview 53, Billings West 45

When her team needed her most, Billings Skyview standout Breanna Williams went into her bag.

The Falcons trailed crosstown rival Billings West 37-27 at halftime of the teams' semifinal game Friday at the Class AA girls basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena. Williams, who will play college ball at the University of Maryland, took over in the third quarter, scoring 13 of her team's 15 points, including two 3-pointers in the final minutes of the period — the second one coming on a stepback jumper from the left wing.

"The stepback, it was kind of just, I need to make some space for myself, so I guess I channeled my inner (James) Harden and gave them a little stepback and finished that way," Williams said.

The stepback 3 gave Skyview its first lead of the game, 42-41, going to the fourth quarter, and the Falcons put the finishing touches on a 53-45 win to advance to Saturday's championship game.

"She's just special. The game IQ and all that, she knows what to do," Skyview coach Randy Chase said of Williams. "Those girls look to her, but the really cool thing is she trusts her teammates to do the things that we need to do, and she finds them in critical times, and they know when we've just got to let her do her thing. But she's just a special, special player and knows how to lead."

Breanna Williams
Billings Skyview's Breanna Williams drives against Billings West's Kourtney Grossman during a semifinal game of the Class AA girls basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 8, 2024.

Williams finished with 35 points, 22 of which came in the second half as Skyview rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit. West established control early, scoring the game's first points and getting up by as many as 13 points in the second quarter.

The Golden Bears made a point of attacking the paint in the first half, making 13 of 25 field goals and 9 of 13 free throws in the first 16 minutes. Brooklyn Pierce scored 11 first-half points, making seven free throws.

On the other end, Skyview struggled to find a rhythm. Williams made 4 of 8 field goals in the first half, but the rest of the Falcons were a combined 5 of 16.

"I've got to give (West coach Jason Amundsen) credit. He's put a defense in that we struggled, put us on a heels in that first half," Chase said. "And it just took a while for us to get a little relaxed."

The Falcons settled down in the third quarter, with Williams leading the way and her teammates making timely plays down the stretch. Skyview limited West to just eight second-half points, outscoring the Golden Bears by 11 points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth.

Pierce finished with 13 points and seven rebounds for West, and Halle Haber had 11 points and six rebounds. The Bears (18-5) slip into the consolation bracket and will play Missoula Sentinel in a loser-out game at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Skyview, meanwhile, improved to 23-0 and will face Missoula Hellgate for the championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

"Coming into the tournament, we started a clean slate," Williams said. "We were 0-0, and we had to win one game at a time. That's been our mantra since the divisional tournament, one game at a time. We've just been chipping one game at a time, and now we're at the championship. So, one more game to go."

Missoula Hellgate 46, Bozeman Gallatin 37

For the second consecutive game, Missoula Hellgate senior Chloe Larson had to leave the game with a bloodied broken nose.

When she returned wearing a new, clean jersey, Hellgate fans chanted her name.

"I don't know what you would have to do to keep Chloe out of the game," Hellgate coach Maddie Keast said. "She's a fighter, she's a warrior, she's my hero. She doesn't quit, she doesn't stop. She deserves it, she deserves to shine in this moment."

"It's not a surprise to me that Chloe shines in these moments," Keast added. "It's a pleasure to get to see her shine in these moments because I know all the hard work that she's put in behind the scenes."

Larson shined brightest Friday at Dahlberg Arena, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Knights' 46-37 win over Bozeman Gallatin in the semifinal round of the Class AA girls basketball state tournament.

Missoula Hellgate girls basketball
Missoula Hellgate senior Chloe Larson (47) throws a pass against Bozeman Gallatin in a semifinal game of the Class AA girls basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 8, 2024.

Larson, who broke her nose during the Western AA divisional tournament last week, did most of her damage Friday in the first half. She scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting before halftime, helping the Knights to a 25-13 lead. They outscored Gallatin 17-4 in the second quarter.

"I think just energy. I think we came off from warmups just knowing that we were going to win it no matter what," Larson said. "We had the energy from the start from our bench, from our student section — being in our hometown really helped us."

The Knights kept Gallatin at arm's length throughout the second half, quelling any Raptors comeback attempts. Hellgate used its size advantage to force Gallatin into 21 turnovers and limit the Raptors to just 13-of-36 shooting. The Knights had 30 rebounds to 19 for Gallatin.

Alix Mund added 10 points and two blocks for Hellgate, and Elly Reed had seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

"I think we just worked for it so hard it just means all the work is paying off," Larson said. "We get one last shot to prove who we are as Hellgate."

Gallatin (17-6) was led by Jada Davis with nine points and Karsen Breeding with eight. With the loss, the Raptors fall into the consolation bracket and will play Missoula Big Sky in a loser-out game at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Hellgate, which has now won 11 straight games to improve to 17-6, will meet unbeaten Billings Skyview for the championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

"I love basketball more than anything. I was fortunate enough to win state championships as a player, and so to get to lead a team to a state championship game, especially this group of young women here that I have in that locker room, it means everything to me," Keast said.

Missoula Hellgate girls basketball
Missoula Hellgate coach Maddie Keast reacts on the sideline as the Knights defeated Bozeman Gallatin in a semifinal game of the Class AA girls basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 8, 2024.

Friday loser-out scores

Missoula Big Sky 44, Kalispell Glacier 31

Missoula Sentinel 56, Great Falls CMR 45