State AA girls: Billings West, Helena Capital set up state championship showdown

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BOZEMAN — Billings West has waited for a year to get back to the Class AA state championship game and after outscoring Missoula Sentinel by 19 points in the second half Friday night, the Golden Bears got their wish.

Their prize? Another state title matchup against a team from Helena. Only this time, it won’t be Helena High. Instead, it will be No. 1 Capital awaiting West Saturday night, following the Bears 48-30 win inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

“We didn’t play a very good 16 minutes,” West head coach Charlie Johnson said of the first half. “We were lackadaisical and didn’t move much. Give credit to Sentinel, they got out and didn’t give us much room, but I thought in the second half, the ball moved better. Kendall Ellis stepped up and the 3-pointers fell, but it started on the defensive end, we got a lot of one-and-dones.”

The Bears’ defense was dominant and when it was all said and done, West held Sentinel to just 30 points and 28 percent shooting. Not a single Spartan reached double figures, including Lexi Deden, who was 4-of-14 and finished with nine points.

Yet, Sentinel did make a run and in the early in the fourth quarter, a Brooke Stayner bucket had the Spartans down just 29-24.

But at that point, West became a different team and sparked by the defense, which forced 17 turnovers, the Bears went on a 12-0 run, a run capped by a 3-pointer from Willa Albrecht, a senior that scored a game-high 14 points in the win.

“We started playing better defense,” Albrecht said. “And when we do that, we can run and we got some easy buckets. In the first half, the shots weren’t falling and in the second half, they started going down.”

On top of her 14 points, Albrecht added eight rebounds, three steals and two assists. Kendall Ellis added nine and Mackenzie Rask pitched in with eight. Deden and Stayner led the Spartans with nine each.

“Losing last year made us want to come back even stronger,” Albrecht said. “I think playing in it (the championship game) last year gave us good experience and that will be good for the game tomorrow.”

The title game Saturday night at 6:30 will feature top-ranked Capital (22-1) and Billings West (19-3), a team that has won 17 straight games. It will also feature the Bartsch twins, Paige and Dani for Capital, against the Albrechts, Willa and Maddie for West.

“It’s kind of fun,” Maddie said of facing another set of twins. “It’s a little different because they aren’t identical. But yeah, it should be fun.”

Last season, Capital fell victim to Helena High in the semis and West suffered the same fate in the state championship game. Now, one of the two will cut down the nets Saturday night.

Helena Capital 48, Missoula Hellgate 36

All season long, it felt like Helena Capital and Missoula Hellgate were on a collision course to meet at the state tournament.

The two teams split during the regular season and the rubber match came Friday, with a spot in the Class AA state championship game on the line.

And after 32 minutes of basketball, Capital left no doubt about which team was superior, using a dominant defense, as well as the superior talents of the Bartsch twins, Paige and Dani to advance state title game following a 48-36 win.

“It feels awesome,” Dani Bartsch said of advancing to state. “We knew that it was going to be a battle. We beat them three times last year and they beat us for third place, so it feels good to come back and get this one.”

In the opening stanza, the two teams felt each other out like a heavyweight fight and a few minutes in, the score was tied 4-4. That’s when Dani Bartsch started to establish herself, making three straight jumpers, sparking an 8-0 run and giving the Bruins a 12-4 lead.

During the second, each team went cold. Capital didn’t make a single bucket and was held to a free throw. On the other end, Keke Davis scored twice in the final minutes of the half, helping Hellgate cut the lead to 13-10.

“We weren’t as aggressive in the second quarter,” Capital head coach Katie Garcin-Forba said. “But I thought we came out in the third and did a much better job of attacking.”

That they did and 3-point specialist Mara McGinley led the way.

Neither team made a 3-pointer in the first half, but in the second, it took McGinley just seconds to change that, as she drilled a 3-ball with 7:45 to go in the third.

Hellgate answered with four straight points, but another McGinley trey, one that bounced around on the rim before dropping, sparked a 10-0 run and after three, despite a buzzer-beater by Bailee Sayler to close the third, Capital led 30-19.

“That shot felt good and I thought it had a good chance of going in,” McGinley said. “So I was glad to see it drop. We have worked so hard for this and it feels good. With everything going on, we are very fortunate to keep playing and have this opportunity.”

Despite McGinley’s 3-pointers, Hellgate was still within striking distance, until Mashayla O’Malley drilled a dagger three, pushing the lead to 14. An offensive rebound and a put back by Paige Bartsch extended it to 16 and Hellgate never seriously threatened again.

“I am so proud of this team,” Garcin-Forba said. “These girls have worked so hard and they have earned this moment and this opportunity. They are excited, but they know that we aren’t done yet.”

Paige Bartsch was her dominant self down low, scoring 12 points, blocking three shots and pulling down 15 rebounds. Dani Bartsch scored a team-high 16 points and added six boards, as well as two steals, while O’Malley added nine points. Sayler led the way for Hellgate with a game-high 19 points in a losing effort.

Capital will face either Billings West or Missoula Sentinel Saturday night for the Class AA state championship. Hellgate will play Saturday morning against the loser of West and Sentinel at 9 a.m.

Glacier 45, Bozeman 38

The dream of a state championship died Thursday at the Class AA girls state tournament for Bozeman and Kalispell Glacier, but the two teams were each hoping to live to fight another day. 

And Glacier, thanks to three players reaching double figures, highlighted by Aubrie Rademacher’s 15 points and 20 rebounds, was the one that survived, edging out the Hawks 43-38 in loser-out action Friday morning at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. 

For much of the game, Bozeman was in the lead. The Hawks led after one and were up one at the break before taking a four-point lead into the final stanza. Yet, the Wolfpack notched 19 points in the fourth and pulled away for the win late.

In addition to Rachemacher’s big game, Kenzie Williams added 11 points and eight rebounds, while Ellie Keller pitched in with 10. Addi Ekstrom led all scorers to 21. 

CMR 55, Billings Skyview 39

Despite the concern about the coronavirus outbreak, basketball continued at the MHSA state tournaments Friday and among the first games played was Great Falls CMR against Billings Skyview in Class AA girls loser-out action inside the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. 

CMR dropped its opener to Missoula Hellgate and Skyview went down to Capital. Yet, each team is still alive in the consolation bracket, at least they were, now it’s just the Rustlers after a 55-39 win.

Kiely Gunderson had a breakout game for CMR, knocking down two 3-pointers and scoring 19 points in addition to grabbing 14 rebounds, as the senior helped extend her career to Saturday at the state tournament. Another CMR senior, Allie Olsen, added 11 points and 12 boards in the win. 

On the other side, Skyview sophomore Brooke Berry scored in double figures for the second straight day. She poured in 17 points in a losing effort for the Falcons. 

Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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