MISSOULA -- Friday's basketball doubleheader between Missoula Hellgate and Sentinel had plenty of hype leading up to the games.
And, boy, did it deliver.
The Hellgate girls let a big lead slip away as Sentinel forced overtime, but the Knights held on 56-51. Meanwhile, the Hellgate boys started hot and never cooled off as they defeated the Spartans 73-45 in front of a packed house at Dahlberg Arena.
In the girls game, sophomore Bailee Sayler didn't shy away from the bright lights and pressure-filled moments. She led the game with 24 points after knocking down three first-half 3-pointers. Then, after Addy Heaphy knocked down a big 3 to tie it at 51-51, Sayler was fouled on a drive to the basket and hit two free throws to give the Knights the lead for good.
"I'm just thinking of (the free throws) like practice," Sayler said. "Just doing them in front of nobody and by myself like I normally do during the summer.
"We were excited (for overtime). We wanted to play more basketball. It was a great shot by (Missoula Sentinel's Lexi Deden), but we were excited to play another four minutes in this atmosphere."
Sayler went to the line one more time where she went 1 for 2 while Lauren Dick added the insurance with the final two free throws to pad the lead.
"Both teams came to play, great atmosphere, great community support," Hellgate girls coach Rob Henthorn said. "Everybody was having a good time and that's what it's all about. Couldn't have been any better. It finished in our favor, but it couldn't have been any better for the fans of Missoula and the two high schools."
Hellgate grabbed a seven-point lead at half but was never able to keep Sentinel too far off its heels. Then, after Hellgate missed the front end of a bonus free throw opportunity, the Spartans missed an ensuing three but Brooke Stayner grabbed the offensive rebound and found Lexi Deden, who knocked down the game-tying jumper with just more than 20 seconds to play. The Knights were unable to connect on the final possession, sending the game into the extra period.
Deden finished with 13 points, Challis Westwater had 12 and Jayden Salisbury added 11. Dick and Alex Covill each had nine points for Hellgate. Hellgate improves to 10-1 while Sentinel falls to 8-2.
In the boys game, Hellgate flexed its muscles from the get-go as the Knights raced to a 17-2 lead out of the gates. Using their typical fast pace along with tough defensive pressure, the Knights caught the Spartans off-guard and ran away from there.
Rollie Worster led Hellgate with 22 points while Cam LaRance added 19 and Abe Johnson tallied 11.
Sentinel appeared to get some momentum late in the first half after Tony Frohlich-Fair buried a 3, but the Knights came back the other way, and as the buzzer sounded LaRance knocked down a triple of his own to send the Knights into half up 40-22.
The Spartans continued to make little pushes, but each time the Knights found a way to respond and prevent any kind of comeback, something head coach Jeff Hays was proud to see.
"We got a lead early, but they have great players and we knew they were going to respond," Hays said. "They came back and they made a run, but every time they did, we had a player that answers. Just one of those nights where things kind of went our way with that."
Then, the exclamation point of the game came in the fourth quarter. Worster grabbed a defensive rebound, tossed a full-court outlet pass to Josh Wade who then lobbed it up to Johnson, who threw down a two-handed dunk right in front of Hellgate's student section that sent Dahlberg into a frenzy. That put the Knights up 65-36 with them well on their way to improving to 11-0.
"It's incredible. Maybe one of the most-hyped games I've played for and in in my whole basketball career, I think that's safe to say," Johnson said. "We know it was going to be big after the success of last year and I think it exceeded all expectations. This was insane. Great thing for Missoula, great thing for the two teams. Feels good to win, for sure."
Sentinel falls to 8-2 with the loss. TJ Rausch led the Spartans with 10, while Frohlich-Fair and Parker Lindsay each had nine.