Bruins Capitalize at foul line for AA girls’ hoops crown

Helena Capital sank 20 free throws in a row and 21 of 22 in the fourth quarter to win its first state girls’ basketball championship Saturday night, defeating Bozeman 63-55 in the last game of the state Class AA tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
McKenzie Johnston led the shooting show for the Bruins by making her first foul shot of the last quarter, missing her second and then netting 10 straight. The free throws, combined with a pullup jumper she hit in the quarter, gave Johnston 13 points for the frame and 18 for the game. She also dished seven assists.
Bozeman was bothered on both sides of foul trouble much of the game. Hawk starters sat out parts of the contest because of the number of fouls they were collecting, with three of them eventually fouling out, and the infractions put Capital at the line for 37 free throws. The Bruins were almost automatic from there, making 32.
Bozeman grabbed a lead late in the third quarter with 6-foot-2 Caitlin Lonergan and 6-1 Emerald Toth scoring from the inside, Lonergan on a pass from Jacey Delaney and Toth on a spin move to the hoop. The quarter ended with the Hawks leading, 39-36.
However, Capital caught back up in the first minute and a half. Tjaden Pallister scored on a short jumper from the key and then Johnston went 1-for-2 at the line. tying the score. Melanie Johnson put Bozeman back ahead, 41-39, with two foul shots made and then the Bruins went ahead for good.
Raynna Pilgeram netted two free throws then Pallister connected on a pullup jumper. Madi Quick caged two freebies and Capital led 45-41 with not quite five minutes left in the game.
Johnson downed two more free throws for Bozeman, but the Bruins responded with two foul shots each by Pilgeram and Johnston.
The Hawks stayed close and Averie Collins meshed a pair of foul shots to keep her team within four points of the lead. Capital, though, wouldn’t miss — not enough for Bozeman’s liking, anyway.
Johnston and Collis traded baskets and Capital slowed the pace, forcing the Hawks to foul. The victory parade to the foul line ensued.
The championship was the second in the arena Saturday night for first-time state titlists. Prior to the girls’ final, Billings Skyview defeated Billings West for the boys’ AA crown, the first in the 30-year school history of Skyview. Also earlier, Kalispell Glacier claimed third place in the girls’ tournament to claim the first trophy in the sport for the school about 10 year old.
The girls’ title tilt saw the teams battle to an 8-all first-quarter tie and then Capital seemed to take control in the second quarter. The Bruins ran off 10 unanswered points over a two-minute stretch for a 21-17 lead. Savanna Bignell triggered the spree.
Bozeman cooled the Capital scoring, but halftime arrived with the Bruins in front by 25-21 after Johnston netted two free throws with 38 seconds to go in the second quarter.
Bozeman, able to start playing some of its stars who had to sit the latter stages of the first half in foul trouble, tied the score at 31-all as Toth pushed through a putback and Delaney drained a 3-pointer.
Capital responded with 6-2 sophomore Mary Bryggman picking up a loose ball and sticking it through the hoop and Johnston tallying from 3-point range. Lonergan scored three times in a row from the key for the Hawks and Toth flipped in her shot off the spin move for the 39-36 Bozeman advantage going into the final frame.
Pallister finished with 15 points to back Johnston in the Capital scoring totals. The championship capped a 20-2 season for the Bruins.
Collins, daughter of former Washington Redskin NFL player Shane Collins, led Bozeman with 16 points, Lonegan had 12 and Delaney 10. Lonergan also had eight rebounds. The Hawks finished at 18-6 for the season.