MISSOULA – The Missoula Hellgate boys basketball team find itself in the running in Class AA year after year. But the Knights haven’t played in a state championship game since 2014. In this week’s KPAX Youth Sports Spotlight, we look at why that could change with this talented group of Knights.
Hellgate has lost only once this season, to talented Coeur D’Alene, and has beaten a couple Eastern AA powers, Billings West and Bozeman, as well as its first three Western AA opponents by wide margins.
Head coach Jeff Hays loves the maturity of his veteran squad, but it also boasts a lineup filled with long, athletic stars. Hellgate is starting to figure out it doesn’t need to play a certain style and can still dominate in every part of the game.
“If we always play defense and rebound, we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” said Hays. “If we share the basketball, take good shots, give ourselves second-chance opportunities on the glass, that’s going to give us the confidence moving forward to hopefully hit some perimeter shots and be able to score at all three levels.”
The Knights returned to action this past week, beating three teams by at least 18 points — Frenchtown, Helena Capital and Helena High — proving why they sit at No. 1 in the MontanaSports.com Class AA coaches poll.
“I thought we had a pretty good week,” added Hays. “We’ve had a busy week. We played Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Tuesday was after three weeks off. We were really bad, especially on the mental side of things (versus Frenchtown). We challenged our guys on Wednesday just to remind them, ‘You guys know what to do, but do it.’ We were really efficient Thursday night against Helena Capital and really efficient (Saturday) against Helena High.”
Hellgate has another shot at a conference statement, while also grabbing some bragging rights, on Saturday. The Knights’ only game this week takes them to Missoula Sentinel for a crosstown showdown.