MISSOULA – When the Missoula Sentinel Spartans need a big shot, they know where to turn. Sentinel’s boys have climbed up the Class AA rankings this year, and Sam Beighle leads the way. The senior sharpshooter made perhaps his biggest shots yet last Friday.
Beighle and the rest of the Spartans struggled to only 11 points in the first half at crosstown rival Missoula Hellgate. But then the Spartan shot his team out of a hole. Beighle drilled several deep 3-pointers, bringing Sentinel back into the lead.
The calm and collected guard finished with 21 points in a low-scoring game, and his team won 47-40.
“I was frustrated the way the game was going,” said Beighle. “Their defense actually really confused me to start the first half. I don’t know, just what we were doing wasn’t working. I guess I kind of started to get a little bit of rhythm. I got to the line early in that second half. Just seeing the ball go through the hoop helped a little bit.”
“If we’re down, he’s always the one who comes and brings us back in the game,” said senior guard Brayden Danzinger. “He’s hit big shots. He’s obviously our leader in scoring. He’s just a good team leader, too.”
Beighle’s leadership is always quiet and reserved. In an emotionally charged game, he appeared the calmest person in the packed Hellgate gym.
“I felt like I was showing some emotion, but apparently I’m not,” said Beighle about his lack of celebration in big moments. “I try not to. I try to just keep my head in it. Especially in a game with an atmosphere like that, not getting too out of sorts is really important.”
Beighle will take his jumper to Carroll College next year, but first he’d like to take Sentinel to its first state title since 1986.
It’s really hard to make the jump from good to great, but Sentinel might be finding the blueprint. The 7-1 Spartan boys are climbing the AA rankings by taking down the top teams in the state.
Sentinel had already defeated Bozeman back before Christmas, handing many people’s state championship favorite its only loss of the season so far. Then the Spartans came alive in the second half to take down Hellgate, one of the other top challengers, last Friday. Now the Spartans are expecting more every night.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is changing the program, Sentinel being the team expected to win those games,” Beighle said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I hope I can go in there and get a win, or hopefully we can pull off an upset.’ But now it’s like we’re in there. We’re expected to win. We know we’ll win, and we believe we’ll win.”
“This year’s team kind of has a lot heart,” added Danzinger. “When we realize that we’re down we kind of work a little bit harder to get the win. But, I mean, we probably should work on starting off strong instead of finishing off strong. But, yeah, we’ve definitely improved on finishing strong.”
Sentinel started a nearly two-week long mid-season break after the Hellgate game, and Beighle conceded the timing wasn’t perfect because of the momentum the team just created. The Spartans will get back on the floor for another Western AA conference game at Helena High on Jan. 25.