Bengal girls rule AA hoops for third year in row

Bengal girls rule AA hoops for third year in row

By Bruce Sayler

Helena High and star player Jamie Pickens were too much for the state Class AA high school girls’ tournament field and showed it Saturday night in the Butte Civic Center with a 55-37 victory over Billings West in the state AA tournament championship game.

Pickens scored 18 points, collected 17 rebounds, blocked two shots and dealt three assists as the Bengals won their third straight AA crown. Pickens has played a starring role in each. The 6-foot-2 senior is bound for the University of Montana women’s basketball program.

Helena HIgh finished the season with a 23-2 record, the only losses being to Kalispell Glacier and to Missoula Hellgate in last weekend’s Western AA Divisional tourney semifinals.

Payton Aasved tossed in 12 points for the Bengals, who netted 8 of 19 attempts from 3-point range. Their stretched defense held Billings West to 28 percent shooting for the game and a chilly 1-for-12 from 3-point land.

Helena High led 10-6 after an Aasved 3-pointer at the first-quarter horn. The Bengals lengthened their lead to 13-6 as Emily Feller and Pickens combined for three free throws. After the margin widened to 18-10, Billings West rallied.

Maddie Albrecht made good on a runner and then Shayla Montague gunned in a 3-pointer. Laiten Lantis hit a short jumper as the Bengals were on an 11-0 run. They took the lead 19-18 on a Lantis foul shot, then TyRaa Manuel scored on a baseline drive and the Golden Bears were up by 21-18.

Payton Aasved, though, of Helena High drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the score was tied at 21-all at halftime.

An unusual aspect of the game was that three sets of twins started — the Aasveds of Helena High, and TyRaa and TyLee Manuel and Maddie and Willa Albrecht, all of Billings West.

Helena High took the lead for good with a 6-0 spurt to start the second half. Pickens began it with a charity toss and then Feller hit on a layup. Payton Aasved finished it off with a 3-pointer.

After a couple of exchanges of baskets, the Bengals scored another seven in a row — all by Pickens, on a free throw and two 3-pointers from the bus station.

The eventual threepeaters then had a 37-25 command. Billings West cut the difference in half on free throws by Montague and Lantis around a floater by TyRaa Manuel. The quarter ended with Helena HIgh in front by 40-32.

The Bengals then outscored the Golden Bears 15-6 in the final frame to just make sure. They connected on 9 of 10 free throws while putting the win on ice.

Billings West finished with a 21-2 record and its only previous loss of the season was to Butte High in the regular season.

The Golden Bears, coached by Butte-rooted Charlie Johnson, were led in their finale by TyRaa Manuel with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Maddie Albrecht tallied seven points in support.

Next year’s state Class AA tournament is scheduled to be held in Bozeman.


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