BILLINGS — Kamden Hilborn always has a smile on her face. The grin was a little larger on Saturday night.
Hilborn scored a game-high 22 points, leading defending champion Helena High past Missoula Sentinel 53-49 for the Bengals’ second consecutive Class AA state championship.
“It’s awesome. I’m so proud of these girls,” said Hilborn. “Nobody really knew what to expect from us this year and we came out and we showed them we mean business. We ended this year with a state championship, I mean, what more can you ask for?”
“I’m proud of them. They put a lot of time in and this is a total team effort,” said head coach Eric Peterson. “I’ve been around a lot of special teams, last year’s team was very, very, very special in my heart, but I’ve never had a team that had as much fun as these guys. If you’ve watched us throughout the year, you’ve seen smiles on their faces. When they play free and loose like they did tonight, the product is what it was right there.”
Hilborn, the lone senior on the Helena High roster, made play after play for Peterson’s Bengals. The three-sport standout went 8-11 from the floor, including a 4-5 performance from beyond the 3-point line. She was particularly important during a pivotal third quarter run, scoring eight points during a 14-5 run midway through the period.
Tied at 23, Jamie Pickens grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it back out to Hilborn, who drilled her second 3-pointer of the contest, putting the Bengals ahead by three. Paige Aasved hit consecutive 3s of her own, boosting the lead to 32-23 with 4:34 remaining in the period.
After a Jordyn Schweyen 3-pointer banked off the backboard, Hilborn added another quick bucket, then another triple minutes later to put the Bengals in front 37-28. She added another 3-pointer, a no-hesitation pull-up right in front of the Helena High bench, during a fourth quarter stretch that helped put Helena High ahead for good.
“We feed off each other really well and once I hit one (Paige) started to hit one,” Hilborn said. “She hit another one and I came back and hit one. She’s awesome, she’s going to have a great couple of years left and we’re really looking forward to watching them grow, both of the Aasved twins (Paige and Payton) and all those younger players coming up. I’m so proud of them for coming out and getting the win tonight.”
Hilborn finished with 22 points, six rebounds, one steal, one assist and a block in her final high school game. Last year’s state tournament MVP may have saved her best performance for last.
“I would like to hope so. It was nice to go out on that, possibly my last basketball game ever, my last high school basketball game ever. That was pretty big I would say,” said Hilborn.
“I don’t know, it’s up there,” Peterson said of Hilborn’s top performances. “I’ve said this all year long, Kamden Hilborn is just a winner. She’s an amazing athlete and an amazing basketball player and the bigger the game, the better she plays. Once again, that was proved tonight. She’s last year’s state MVP and this year she came out and probably bettered last year. Toward the end of the game there I pulled her over and told her I love her. If anyone has put in more time than her, I don’t know who it is.”
Sentinel got 10 points and 11 rebounds from standout Kylie Frohlich, but the Spartans couldn’t overcome the third-quarter run from the Bengals. Sentinel cut Helena’s lead to as few as five during a quick 4-0 spurt near the end of the third quarter, but Abby Marcille connected on a Jamie Pickens’ pass, getting fouled and knocking down the free throw to put Helena up 40-32 entering the final eight minutes.
Pickens finished with eight points and nine rebounds, while also blocking four shots and dishing three assists in the win. Payton Aasved and Vanessa Walsh each had six points on two 3s, while Paige Aasved added two rebounds and a pair of assists.