By Bruce Sayler
Bozeman turned out to be Montana’s best Class AA high school boys’ basketball team Saturday night after Missoula Hellgate had ruled the roost all season.
A last-second layup by Brett Clark in overtime gave the Hawks a 55-53 win over Hellgate in a championship game thriller that capped the boys’ state tournament in the Butte Civic Center.
Bozeman led almost all the way and then had to withstand a fierce rally by the Knights that sent the game into overtime.
Fisher Richardson’s drive to the hoop for Hellgate with 58 seconds left in regulation tied the score 45-all. Bozeman’s Ryan Simpson missed a 3-pointer late and Dylan Holst pulled down the rebound for Hellgate. Rollie Worster cut loose a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it hit off the rim and the extra period was in order.
Bridger Deden gave the Knights a 46-45 edge with a free throw with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left in the OT. Clark took a pass from Simpson to the hoop to regain the lead for the Hawks. Simpson blocked a Worster shot at the other end and fired it off to Jashon Mendoza streaking to the basket. Mendoza looped in the layup over a defender and Bozeman had a 49-46 edge with 2:42 to go in the overtime.
Worster drilled a 3-pointer to tie the score again with 1:54 on the OT clock. Clark scored again on a pass from Simpson and Hawks were ahead by 51-49 with 41 seconds to go. Worster cut loose from way deep and put the Knights in the lead, 52-51 with 25 seconds left. Abe Johnson of Hellgate then fouled out trying to defend against Bozeman’s Ryan Lonergan. Lonergan sank both free shots and the Hawks had the one-point lead, 53-52, with 9 seconds to play. Logan Riddle had entered the game for Hellgate as the sub for Johnson. He drew a foul under the basket from Clark and made one of two charity tosses. The score was tied again, 53-all, with 6 ticks left.
The Hawks worked downcourt against Hellgate’s defense and Carter Ash saw Clark speeding along the baseline toward the basket. He fired him the pass and Clark laid it in just before the buzzer.
Clark finished with 18 points, 16 in the second half. Lonergan and Ash had 10 points as Bozeman finished with a 19-5 record, avenged a 67-61 defeat to Hellgate in the regular season and captured its first state title since 2011.
The Hawks were the only in-state team to beat the Knights. Hellgate wound up 21-2 with its only other loss to Coeur d’Alene High School of Idaho.
Worster had 26 points, including a 7-for-13 performance from the 3-point line.
Deden was next-high with eight points while the 6-8 Johnson led on the boards with nine rebounds.
Hellgate had a 12-9 lead after one quarter, thanks to a Worster 3-pointer at the buzzer. Bozeman strung together an 11-0 run in the second period after Worster had widened the Knights’ lead to 14-9. Ash began the spree with a long jumper and then Mendoza passed to Lonergan for a layup. Ryan Simpson added a three-point play before Clark and Ash scored baskets to finish the run.
The Bozeman lead was 22-15 with 3:57 left in the half before Hellgate rallied to tie it on baskets by Holst and Deden before a Worster 3-pointer ended the half.
Hellgate took a short lead at 24-22 when Worster tallied on a follow before Bozeman took off on an 8-0 run on the scoring of Clark and Simpson. An Ash 3-pointer opened the margin to 35-28 heading into the fourth quarter.
Bozeman’s biggest lead was 12 points, 40-28, at 6:27 of the third quarter after a Hudson Willet 3-pointer off a kickout pass from Lonergan. The Knights outscored Bozeman 17-10 in the fourth frame, but didn’t catch the Hawks until Richardson’s drive that forced overtime.