HELENA -- Class AA basketball programs don't often get the opportunity to participate in a varsity doubleheader. The Helena Capital boys and girls took advantage of the rare chance Saturday evening, sweeping previously-unbeaten squads from Missoula Sentinel.
The Capital boys defeated the Spartans 72-59, while the Bruin girls won 53-42.
Four Capital boys scored in double figures, led by Parker Johnston's 18, as the Bruins shot lights out to hand Sentinel its first loss of the year. Johnston hit 7 of 11 field goals and pulled down six rebounds, while Bridger Grovom added 16 points and three boards.
Brayden Koch chipped in with 13 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final two minutes, and Shane Haller added 10 points in the win.
"That’s the word, grit. We showed a lot of grit," said Capital head coach Guy Almquist. "Tough game, that’s a tough opponent. They are a good basketball team, obviously."
Capital (6-2) jumped out to a seven-point lead in the opening quarter behind hot shooting, but Sentinel (7-1) chipped away to cut the deficit to 19-18. The second frame was identical, bringing the halftime score to 38-36 in favor of Capital.
Sentinel won the third quarter, but never led by more than two points. With the game tied 59-all inside two minutes remaining, the Bruins went to the sophomore Koch, who delivered a 3-pointer from the right wing that put the Bruins ahead for good. Capital scored the final 13 points in the contest.
"Actually one of our assistant coaches suggested we run that play for Brayden. I thought to myself, ‘There’s no better guy.’ Great execution, great pass, great screening, he knocked it down," said Almquist.
"It was a great execution by us. We set it up well," said Koch. "Coach told us in the timeout before to relax, play our game, so we did that. We came out with a great executed play and it turned out well."
Alex Germer had a game-high 27 points with four 3-pointers, while Tony Frohlich-Fair added 10. Sentinel had 16 turnovers in the contest, and a technical foul in the final minutes helped seal the victory for the Bruins.
"I think it’s huge for our confidence," Almquist said of Saturday's win. "We played Billings West on the road, we played Missoula Hellgate on the road and now we’re playing Sentinel here — considered them three of the best teams in the state by most, for us to get a win finally, not just compete, but get a win, I think that will do a lot for us the rest of the season."
The nightcap pitted the final two undefeated teams in Class AA against one another, with Sentinel and Capital each entering the evening with 7-0 records.
It was the Spartans that started strong behind post players Lexi Deden and Challis Westwater, who finished the game with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Sentinel (7-1) led 30-23 at intermission.
But the third quarter belonged to Capital (8-0), which unleashed its stingy team defense, while Mara McGinley led the charge on the other end with big back-to-back 3-pointers that put the Bruins ahead for good.
"We told them at halftime, our defense has to improve and we have to play collectively better on defense. I didn’t think we did a great job in our team defense," said Capital coach Katie Garcin-Forba. "We made some adjustments with our post players to be a little more physical, meet their cutters a little quicker. I thought Paige (Bartsch) and Aryana (Ridlon) did a fantastic job of that. When our offense started to go a little bit more, that just loosened us up offensively."
"We really battled back," added McGinley. "Defensively, we shut down the post a lot better than we did in the first half. On the offensive end, we started to execute. Everyone had their play, and that’s really what got us going."
McGinley finished with a game-high 17 points behind five 3s, while Mashayla O'Malley scored 12 points on a pair of first half 3-pointers. Capital made 8 of 21 from beyond the arc and held Sentinel to only 4-of-20 shooting in the second half. The Bruins outscored the Spartans 15-4 in the third quarter and 30-12 in the final two periods.
"I think any time you beat the only other remaining undefeated, I think it’s a great confidence builder," said Garcin-Forba. "I think more than anything, in this game we got down, they had a lot of momentum going their way and we responded. I told the girls after the game, as their coach, that’s what makes me most proud about this group, they don’t quit, they just kept battling and never felt like they were out of that one."