BUTTE — The historical run came to an end on Saturday evening for the Missoula Hellgate girls, though it did so on a win.
Hellgate defeated Helena Capital 51-38 in the consolation game of the State AA girls basketball tournament on Saturday evening, earning the third-place trophy in the process. It’s the first girls basketball state trophy the program has won since 2003, when the Knights finished runner-up to Billings West.
That was also the last time Hellgate’s girls qualified for the state tournament.
Bailee Sayler, one of Hellgate’s numerous key freshmen, led the way with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds. Sayler hit 8 of 13 shots, many coming in critical moments as Capital, the No. 1 seed from the Western AA, tried to rally.
It was the third win in four tries at this state tournament for the Knights, who stressed a “nothing-to-lose mentality” throughout the regular season and into the postseason. That mentality quickly changed to a “why not us” when Hellgate defeated top-ranked, two-time defending champion Helena High in the divisional tournament, leading to a state trophy at the Butte Civic Center.
Hellgate wasted little time flexing its young muscles against the more experienced Bruins, charging to a seven-point lead midway through the opening quarter. The Knights led 15-11 after one, then held on during a struggling second quarter for each team, leading 24-17 at halftime.
Sayler had 12 points at the break.
Emma Blakely helped the Knights remain in control in the second half, scoring all 10 of her points after halftime. Kylie Sunday added eight points and five rebounds in the contest for fourth-year coach Rob Henthorn.
Capital drew within six in the third quarter, but the lead quickly ballooned to 16, 49-33, in the fourth quarter. The Bruins were led by senior Sydney Sheridan’s nine points. Megan Lindbo added eight and three rebounds, while Dani Bartsch had five points and nine rebounds, five on the offensive glass.
Helena Capital made only 10 of 37 field goals (27 percent), though the Bruins did make six 3-pointers.
But Hellgate was consistent throughout, especially in the second half, successfully converting on 71.4 percent of their shots (10 of 14) in the final 16 minutes and shooting 54.3 percent for the game.
Capital beat Kalispell Glacier, 56-36, and Hellgate defeated Great Falls High, 40-25, in Saturday morning loser-out action to advance to the consolation.