MISSOULA — It wasn't pretty, but Missoula Sentinel got it done.
The Spartans defeated Helena High 49-40 on Wednesday evening to advance to the State AA boys basketball tournament in Great Falls next week. The No. 1-seed Spartans improved to 14-1 and will go into state as the top seed from the Western AA.
Alex Germer led Sentinel with 18 points while Tony Frohlich-Fair finished with 12. Offensively the Spartans struggled to find their shot from the field and from the free throw line as Sentinel finished 18 for 32 from the charity stripe.
"It's a great feeling to be able to go to state again," Sentinel senior TJ Rausch said. "We were prepared to go there and (Helena) put up a great fight (Tuesday) but we ended up sticking it out and making it and it's just super exciting."
Kaden Huot led Helena with 13 points while Austin Zeiler added nine as the No. 8-seed Bengals finished 0-15 on the season. The Bengals shot just 3 for 6 from the free throw line.
"That's what the playoffs are all about. Glacier showed that (Tuesday) night at Hellgate that anything can happen," Sentinel coach Jason Maki said. "Credit to our kids for just grinding. We missed some free throws, we missed some layups and we couldn't get any separation and so they just kept playing defense and eventually we got to about a 10-point lead and were able to hold that."
After a slow first quarter, Sentinel used a 9-0 run in the second quarter to take a 21-10 lead. But Helena went on a short run at the end of the first half, and a jumper at the buzzer from Evan Barber made it a 25-18 Spartan lead at the break.
Down the stretch, Sentinel began to take control though never fully getting out of reach as Helena kept it close until the end, but Sentinel's defense eventually halted the Bengals as the Spartans advanced to the state tournament for the fifth straight year.
The State AA tournament runs March 10-13.
"We got to go to work in practice this week and make sure we're ready to go," Rausch said. "Once we get there we just have to play hard and make sure we're giving everything and not letting up at all."