BILLINGS — Happy tears streamed down the face of the Bozeman girls basketball team as they left the locker room, ready to celebrate with their fans.
The Hawks couldn’t help it, excited after rallying past Helena Capital 34-32 in the State AA consolation game on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a lot of excitement, obviously that was a really intense game,” said Bozeman coach Erika Gustavsen. “This season has been a bit of a roller coaster for us, but we knew what this team was capable of. We just had a hard time finishing some games. This group came into the state tournament really ready to play. We had some close games, some big games, but we stayed composed.”
That was challenging Saturday, as Helena Capital built a seven-point halftime lead, outscoring the Hawks 11-5 in the second quarter. But Bozeman put together a 7-0 run to end the third, trimming the Bruins’ lead to 23-21 entering the final quarter.
Sophomore Lucy Child played a significant role in that run, grabbing a key steal and getting fouled on a layup attempt, then knocking down a big 3-pointer that cut the lead to two at the end of the period.
“To lose Ayla Embry and still be in this game, that was pretty remarkable,” Gustavsen said of her star guard, who left with a foot injury. “Lucy is a spunky kid. She’s swung for us the whole year and got minutes here and there. I knew her legs would be fresh at this point, and she brings a spark. You know what I love, she came in and she didn’t hesitate. She got a couple steals on defense, knocked down a couple shots and got to the free throw line and really contributed, which was huge.”
Child finished with six points and three steals, all in the second half, while Ava Westphal scored a team-high eight points to go with four rebounds and a steal. Bozeman shot a dismal 18 percent in the first half, but went 6-11 in the second half, while knocking down 8-15 free throws to help clinch the third-place trophy.
“Grit. We said from the beginning, ‘When you get to the state tournament, really at this point it’s about grit, who’s going to want it more,’” said Gustavsen. “It doesn’t have to be a big win, when we were going into the fourth quarter and we were down by two, I said, ‘All you have to do is win by three.’ There was nothing miraculous, we didn’t have to change anything, they just had to compete and get some stops and score the ball, at least semi-consistently, which we did. They had a lot of heart, competed and made a choice that they weren’t going to lose.”
Capital got a game-high 16 points from Kacie Gross, who scored four straight points in a 5-1 Bruins’ run early in the third. Gross had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but her runner was off the mark. Capital corralled the offensive rebound, but couldn’t get another attempt off before the final horn sounded.
Bozeman’s defense dialed in during the second half, forcing 10 Capital turnovers. The Bruins finished with 17 in the game, while Bozeman had 10 steals in the contest.
“They’re a great defensive team and have had a great season and have some really great players,” Gustavsen said of Capital. “We knew we had to hang in, get a couple defensive stops and score the ball some. To be in the 30s is kind of what we figured with the tempo of the game and they did it. They did it. I don’t know how, it’s kind of a blur right now, but they definitely did it. I’m super proud of these kids. It’s a great group of kids and they’ve worked hard all season. It’s great for them to end with some hardware.”