HELENA — Helena Capital made 16 of 18 free throws in overtime, including 10 straight, as the No. 2 Lady Bruins defeated crosstown rival and No. 1 Helena High 63-49 on Tuesday.
Thirty-two minutes wasn’t enough for the final two unbeaten teams in Class AA. but the charity stripe proved to be the difference for Capital in the final five minutes, as the Lady Bruins improved to 9-0 on the season.
”It’s not very often you get to say, ‘I got to play in front of a packed house,’ and this place was packed,” said Capital head coach Bill Pilgeram. “It was the biggest game in town for them, so there was going to be excitement, and that’s why you play sports is for the excitement and close games like that. They’ll remember this night forever.”
Helena High actually had an opportunity to win in regulation, as guard Kamden Hilborn drove the length of the floor and tossed a floater that clanked high off the iron on three separate occasions, drawing near silence from the capacity crowd.
“Oh my gosh, my heart dropped to the floor when that happened,” said Capital guard Sydney Sheridan. “That was just a great game. It was awesome.”
The sigh of relief was enough to give Capital new life in overtime. Sheridan sank two free throws to open the extra minutes, then Megan Lindbo sliced to the basket for a layup that stretched the Capital lead to four.
A Hilborn 3-pointer briefly cut the lead back to one point, 49-48 with 2:20 remaining in overtime, but Sheridan, Lindbo, Taylor Sullivan and Kacie Gross would combine for 16 free throws in the final 2:10 to set the difference.
“This gym has such a great atmosphere and knocking those free throws down feels so good,” said Sheridan. “In practice, we always talk about how important that is. A couple years ago, when (Capital) won the state championship, I think they made 19 of 21 of their free throws. That’s a huge core covenant of our team.”
Nerves were on display in the first quarter, as Helena High’s home gym was filled with many fans standing along the corners of the court. The teams combined to miss their first six field goal attempts before Katie Culver knocked down the first basket of the game nearly two minutes in. Culver had a game-high 15 rebounds in the contest.
Capital held an 8-7 lead after the first quarter, and the teams traded baskets in the second period until a Lindbo 3-pointer gave the Lady Bruins a 20-16 advantage. Hilborn sank two baskets two draw Helena High to within two at halftime. Capital limited Helena standout Jamie Pickens to only three points in the first 16 minutes.
Pickens, the Montana Lady Griz commit, made the first basket in the second half, but Capital used a 7-3 run to open up a 29-23 lead. McKayla Kloker’s 3-pointer sparked the defending champions to a spurt of their own, with Pickens and Helena High scoring the final six points of the frame, slicing the lead to 31-30.
Capital again extended its lead to five in the final quarter, using the size advantage of Sullivan, the Army West Point commit, who totaled a game-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds. But Pickens and Hilborn, who combined for 33 of Helena’s 39 points, again brought the Lady Bengals back, with Pickens and Paige Aasved knocking down 3-pointers to give Helena High a 40-39 lead.
Trailing by a point with under a minute to play, Emily Kidder appeared to knock down her second game-winning shot in as many games, but a Hilborn free throw tied the contest at 45 with 38 seconds remaining. Lindbo missed a field goal with four seconds to play, setting up Hilborn’s near miracle at the end of regulation.
Sheridan made eight of her nine free throws in the overtime to finish with 15 points.
Helena High (8-1, 2-1) travels to No. 3 Missoula Sentinel on Thursday for a rematch of last season’s state championship. Helena Capital welcomes the Lady Spartans to The Bears Den on Saturday.