KALISPELL — Top-seed Missoula Hellgate and No. 3-seed Helena Capital had to fight until the final buzzer in the Western AA boys basketball divisional semifinals on Friday, but the Knights and Bruins held off challenges to set up a meeting in Saturday’s championship.
Capital pulled off an upset over No. 2-seed Missoula Sentinel in the nightcap in Kalispell, 53-51. The Spartans had swept the season series, but Capital came out hot, building a 13-6 lead after one quarter and pushing the lead to 10 early in the second. Sentinel trailed by eight at halftime but put together a big run in the third quarter to take a 38-37 lead.
After a back-and-forth stretch in the fourth quarter, Trevor Swanson hit a huge 3-pointer from the top of the key to push Capital’s lead to five. Then Swanson came up with a steal on the next possession, and a few free throws put the Bruins back up by seven. Sentinel still refused to go away. Elias DeWaters answered with a 3-pointer. Then Scott Malikie scored to cut the lead down to 53-51, and Sentinel fouled with 1.8 seconds left on the clock. Capital missed both free throws, but the Spartans’ heave from near half-court at the buzzer was no good, letting the Bruins finally celebrate the win.
Brady Martin led the way for the Bruins with 14 points. Bridger Grovom added 12. Swanson’s big plays at the end pushed him to 10 points. Malikie and Alex Germer each scored 15 points for Sentinel. Statistically the two teams played very even. Capital shot 46 percent from the field, while Sentinel made 44 percent. The Spartans grabbed one more rebound than the Bruins.
Capital will now play in the championship game, while Sentinel will have to beat hosting Kalispell Glacier in a loser-out game at 11 a.m. Saturday. The winner moves on to state.
Fourth-seeded Helena High came out swinging against the top seed, but Hellgate proved down the stretch why it is ranked No. 1. The Knights dug out of an early hole to avoid the Bengals’ shot at an upset. Hellgate won the semifinal, 49-44, on Friday.
Helena blitzed the Knights right from the opening tip. The Bengals led 16-5 after one quarter, but Hellgate’s offense came alive in the second quarter. The Knights scored 21 points in the frame to tie the game up 26-26 at halftime. Hellgate star, and Class AA’s top scorer, Rollie Worster, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give him 14 first-half points.
The big second quarter didn’t carry over to the second half, however. Hellgate led 34-33 at the end of the third quarter. The lead reached a game-high six points for the Knights three minutes into the final quarter. Helena twice cut the lead to two in the final minutes, the last time to 46-44 with just more than one minute left, but the Bengals never scored again, and three free throws wrapped up the hard-fought win for Hellgate.
The Knights shot 53 percent from the field in the game, while the Bengals made only 32 percent of their shots, but an 8-for-23 performance from the 3-point line and only two total turnovers kept Helena in the game. Worster finished with a game-high 19 points. Abe Johnson added 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Knights. Alex Johnson paced the Bengals with 11 points.
Hellgate clinches a spot in next week’s State AA tournament and will now play in the Western AA championship game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday versus Capital. Helena will meet Kalispell Flathead in a loser-out game at 11 a.m. Saturday. The winner also earns a ticket to state.
Earlier in a loser-out game, Kalispell Flathead held off a late comeback by the Missoula Big Sky Eagles. The Braves won, 69-65, thanks to 17 points and 11 rebounds from Gabe Adams.