Bengals, Golden Bears to decide AA girls’ champ

Bengals, Golden Bears to decide AA girls’ champ

Teams with a combined record of 42-3 will tangle for the state Class AA high school girls’ basketball championship in the 8:30  p.m. game Saturday in the Butte Civic Center.

The tournament semifinals saw Billings West beat Missoula Hellgate 56-36 to go to 21-1 for the season before Helena High came back on crosstown rival Helena Capital for a 38-28 win in a rivalry-soaked-and-stoked clash.

Billings West blocked Hellgate’s way through the semifinals while grabbing a spot in the championship game for itself. The Golden Bears swatted away five Hellgate shots and connected on field goal tries at a 52 percent clip to put away the win, their 21st of the year against only one loss.

TyLee Manuel and Willa Albrecht led West with 12 points each, and Shayla Montague scored 10. Manuel also worked the boards for six rebounds. Maddie Albrecht had eight points and dished three assists, and TyRaa Manuel put in seven points.

The Golden Bears took over the game right away. They grabbed a 15-4 lead by the first-quarter break and ballooned the margin to 30-11 by halftime. The young Hellgate team, which starts three freshmen and has six on its roster, gathered itself at intermission and played a better second half.

The Knights’ bench cut a 49-20 deficit through three quarters to the final margin with a 16-7 fourth-quarter run. West fired in a shots at a 57 percent rate in building its first-half command as Albrecht and Montague netted eight points each.

The Golden Bears’ block party was led by Manuel with three blocks as West was able to deflect change the Knights’ shots in the key. All five West starters stand 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1 in a tall, talented lineup.
Senior Emma Blakely led Hellgate with nine points and the team shot a frosty 25 percent from the field. Bailee Sayler notched two points and three rebounds. Addy Heaphy, Kylie Luday and Kinsey Henthorn each tallied five points.

The Knights take a 15-7 record into Saturday morning consolation play at 10:30 against Great Falls HIgh in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym at Butte High School. The winner will play in the 5 p.m. third-place game in the Civic Center.

The Helena High-Capital battle saw Helena High nab a 7-6 first-quarter edge then fall behind as star 6-2 senior post Jamie Pickens became engulfed in foul trouble. She sat out the last few minutes of the first half after attracting her third foul and Capital took a 15-7 halftime lead, pitching a defensive shutout at the Bengals in the second quarter. Pickens was held to three points and 1-for-3 shooting before intermission.

The University of Montana Lady Griz signee then picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter and the Bruins controlled a 22-17 lead going into the last period. However, the Bengals kept in the game by drawing fouls and sinking free throws.

Pickens returned to the Helena High lineup at the start of the fourth quarter and the Bengals clawed their way back. Payton Aasved drilled a 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game and then, on her team’s next trip downcourt, she rebounded her own miss and laid it off the glass for a basket that tied the score 22-all.

The Bruins never led again. The Aasved plays ignited a 21-6 fourth-quarter run for the Bengals. Pickens put her team ahead with two made foul shots the 4:41 mark and then Vanessa Walsh canned a 3-point shot at 3:07 as Helena High led 27-22. The Bruins finally broke onto the fourth-quarter scoreboard with two charity tosses by Emily Kidder.

Helena High resumed its hot streak as Pickens hooped a falling-down, left-handed flip off the backboard for a 29-24 difference and Paige Aasved knocked in a layup follow at the 1:26 juncture.

The Bengals mopped up at the free throw line as Walsh, Paige Aasved and Perkins all netted freebies.

It was Helena High’s third victory in as many tries this season and count as the Bruins’ only losses against 21 wins. Helena High’s two losses were to Kalispell Glacier and Missoula Hellgate. Billings West’s only loss was at the hands of Butte High in the regular season.

Pickens finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the semifinal, and Walsh scored 11 points. Capital was led by Dani Bartsch with 11 points and seven rebounds. The Bruins will play Kalispell Glacier at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in the Civic Center in a loser-out that will send the winner on to the third-place final at 5 p.m.

— Bruce Sayler, buttesports.com

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