BILLINGS — Karen Deden had her postgame interview comments ready before a question was even asked.
“They say it’s tough to beat a team three times,” she said, “the proof is in the pudding right there.”
Deden’s Missoula Sentinel program defeated Helena Capital 33-29 in Friday’s semifinals, earning a victory over the Bruins for the third time this season. The first two meetings were pretty smooth victories for the Spartans. Friday’s win was anything but.
Sentinel made only four field goals in the first half, shooting a dismal 19 percent from the floor. Capital wasn’t much better, though, also making four field goals on 25 percent shooting in a 15-12 Bruins’ halftime lead.
“They made us play a little chaotic, I think,” said Deden. “I thought we got through it OK. It wasn’t pretty, I’ll take the blame for that. I’ll be the first to say, ‘Hey, that’s on me.’ But I’m glad the kids were able to get themselves in a position to win the game.”
“I’m really excited we’re back in the state chipper,” added Shelby Schweyen. “I’m excited for Capital, too, because they’re a great team. It’s never easy to beat someone three times and I give them a lot of credit. They played their butts off, but I’m so excited to be back here and see what we can do (Saturday).”
The second half didn’t start any better for Sentinel, which missed six straight shots to open the quarter. The Spartans first field goal came 4:31 into the second half when Jordyn Schweyen forced a steal and went coast-to-coast for a layup that brought Sentinel to within 22-14. It was that play that provided the spark Sentinel needed.
“Jordy, she had that breakaway layup. She got the steal and made that,” Shelby Schweyen said of her sister. “That was when I said, ‘Guys, this is where we go. It’s a momentum change and we have to get it going.’”
Sentinel went on a 10-0 run after the Jordyn Schweyen bucket, with Shelby Schweyen scoring six of the 10 points, first on an offensive rebound and putback, then a drive that ended in a layup and cut the Capital lead to four.
One minute later, Lexi Deden performed a crossover in the post to perfection to slice the lead to two, before Jordyn Schweyen again went on a fast break and scored, tying the game at 22 with 51 seconds left in the quarter. Sentinel took its first lead since they held an 8-7 advantage after the opening quarter when Shelby Schweyen hit a jumper on the baseline off an inbounds play. The 12-0 run gave Sentinel a 24-22 lead entering the final eight minutes.
“This is the last state tournament for a lot of the seniors, we’re playing together for the last time and we have to work together, through the thick and thin,” said Shelby Schweyen. “Even if the shots aren’t falling, we have to keep trying and find a way out of it.”
The fourth quarter was reminiscent of the opening period, with neither team scoring in the first 3:35. Deden made the first field goal of the quarter after an offensive rebound, getting fouled and hitting the free throw in the proess to give the Spartans a 27-23 lead.
Sentinel held a 29-25 lead after Kayla Daily drilled a pair of free throws, but Kacie Gross hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 to play, cutting the Sentinel lead to 29-28. Capital fouled Shelby Schweyen with under a minute to play, but the junior missed the front end of a one-and-one, however, Emily Kidder travelled on the rebound, giving the ball back to the Spartans.
Schweyen avenged the miss, sinking a pair of free throws to give Sentinel a 31-28 lead with 34.8 seconds to play. Following a missed 3-pointer and offensive rebound, Sullivan was fouled in the post, but made only one of two free throws, setting up a 31-29 score with 10.2 remaining. Schweyen sank two more free throws to cap the scoring.
With the win, Sentinel advances to its second straight State AA championship game. The Spartans fell to Helena High in last year’s title game, but hope Friday’s second half performance carries over to Saturday night.
“Friday is hard, people don’t know about Friday,” laughed Deden. “The kids are super excited. The majority of my team is seniors and have played together for their entire lives, including Shelby, they’ve been on the same team since they were in second or third grade. This is a culmination of all that work and they’re excited to be there. Well-deserved and these kids work hard. They’re not just kids who walk out onto the court and play, they deserve what they’ve gotten, they’ve worked hard at being good basketball players.”
“I feel like we had a little bit of an ugly game there, but we came out on top,” added Shelby Schweyen. “I’m excited for (Saturday). I think we’re all just focused, getting ready for (that championship) because again, this is our last time playing together and we want to win it together. We took third two years ago, second last year and I think we’re ready to go out and do our best.”
Shelby Schweyen led Sentinel with 11 points. She also grabbed three rebounds, had a pair of steals and an assist. Kylie Frohlich fouled out in the fourth quarter, but managed seven points, all in the first half, to go with a team-high eight rebounds. Lexi Deden had five points and six boards for the Spartans.
Capital was led by Taylor Sullivan’s 16 points and nine rebounds. The West Point commit also had three blocks in the game. Gross scored 10 points and had two rebounds in the loss.
Missoula Sentinel will play Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. in the championship game, facing the winner of Helena High and Kalispell Glacier. Helena Capital falls to loser-out action at 9 a.m. against Billings West.
Helena High 63, Kalispell Glacier 52
Bring on the rematch.
Jamie Pickens scored 15 points, 13 in the second half, as defending champion Helena High pulled away from Kalispell Glacier 62-53 on Friday night in the Class AA girls semifinals. The Bengals advance to the state championship game for the second straight year, meeting last year’s runner-up, Missoula Sentinel.
“Hands off to Glacier. They fought hard and we knew it was going to be kind of an ugly game,” said Helena head coach Eric Peterson. “When Glacier D’s you up, they can D you up. We had to make every possession count and we hit our free throws tonight, that was one of the big factors in the game.”
Helena High got seven first-quarter points from Emily Feller, keeping the Bengals locked with the Wolfpack 10-10 entering the second period. Feller scored a layup, knocked down a 3-pointer and added a jump shot in the final six minutes of the period. She scored the first basket of the second quarter, as Helena High went on a 6-0 run.
Feller finished the game with nine points and four rebounds, providing a spark Peterson and the Bengals needed.
“Emily went 4-4 in the first half and that’s what Emily is about. She’s an under-the-radar player and she is very key for us,” said Peterson. “She’s a really good defender for us and she can guard 1-5 on the floor and we rely on her to do that.”
Helena outscored Glacier 19-8 in the second quarter, including a 17-5 run in the period. Pickens, who struggled in the opening half, scored after an offensive rebound, then Paige Aasved and Kamden Hilborn knocked down consecutive 3s to push the Bengals ahead 22-15.
Abby Marcille, who also provided key minutes and big buckets, scored five straight points on her own to give Helena a 27-15 lead. Glacier’s Kali Gulick hit a 3-pointer before the half to bring the score to 29-18.
“That was huge. We can score in bunches some times, and that was one of those cases where we had a few quick 3s, and it went from (10-10) real quick, suddenly it was 27-15. That was very key in the game because we were able to maintain, and they clawed back a little bit, but we had that cushion the whole game.”
“That’s been our season, and it can be anybody,” Peterson continued. “Abby Marcille hasn’t been shooting a lot of 3s this year, but she stepped up and hit a big one. The twins (Paige and Payton Aasved) they do it every night, you just never know which one it will be. They’re just gunslingers.”
While Helena High was on the verge of blowing the game open multiple times, Gulick and Anna Schrade did their part to keep the Wolfpack around in the second half. Each hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter, plus Ellie Stevens converted a 3-point play to get the Wolfpack within seven, 34-27. But Payton Aasved hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of the period, extending Helena’s lead to 41-31.
The Glacier duo combined for 10 more points in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t overcome the deficit. Gulick finished with a game-high 20 points, while Schrade added 17.
Pickens, though, saved her best for the second half, scoring nine points in the final period. Her 3-pointer with 4:58 remaining pushed the Bengals ahead by nine and stopped a 4-0 run from the Wolfpack.
One key play from the future Montana Grizzly came during a routine out-of-bounds situation — with Glacier applying full-court defense, Pickens tossed a full-court baseball throw on target to a cutting teammate who found McKayla Kloker for an easy layup. The basket gave Helena High a 55-45 lead with 1:19 to play.
“She’s a smart player and she’s a legit D-I player right now,” Peterson said of Pickens. “Lucky for us she’s only a junior. We’ll get plenty of Jamie Pickens, but it was really nice to see the other girls step up and it was a total team effort, because Jamie really struggled early to get the ball to fall. We’re just going to keep going to the well, she’s going to figure it out and she did that in the second half for us.”
Helena High meets Western AA rival Missoula Sentinel in the state championship for the second straight season. The Bengals defeated the Spartans 46-41 last March in Great Falls. The two teams split their regular season meetings — Sentinel won 48-43 in January, before Helena High earned a 49-46 win the following month. The Spartans defeated the Bengals in last weekend’s Western AA divisional championship game in the Capital City.
“It’s great for our conference and it’s great for the state to have a couple of teams,” said Peterson. “I felt like the Western AA really stepped up to the plate at this state tournament, having all four teams in semifinal games shows you what we were battling all year long. It’s a dogfight every night. Capital showed that tonight against Sentinel. It will be a special night (Saturday) night going back-to-back against Sentinel. You know, they got us last week and as it’s gone this year, they’ve won one and we’ve won one. I don’t know whose turn it is, but I hope it’s ours.”
The Bengals and Spartans tip off at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Kalispell Glacier falls to loser-out against Bozeman at 9 a.m.