MISSOULA — Sentinel seemingly had Hellgate right where it wanted it after the first quarter, hanging within single digits and sending Knights center Abe Johnson to the bench with foul trouble.
Not only did Hellgate hold onto its lead without its big man the entire second quarter, but the Knights blew the game open Thursday at Hellgate. The usually overshadowed Fisher Richardson, a 6-foot-3 senior wing, exploded for 11 points as the Knights began their march to a 74-35 win that gave them their first city sweep and their first Western AA title since 2016.
“We were just trying to remove all doubt that they wanted to be on the floor with us,” Richardson said of his mindset during the second quarter. He finished with 15 points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds.
Far from the lone contributor, junior guard Rollie Worster, a Montana Grizzly commit, stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and one block. Senior wing Dylan Holst added 10 points, Bridger Deden had seven and Johnson added six.
“That was an all-around team performance,” said Hellgate head coach Jeff Hays, whose top-ranked Knights improved to 15-1 overall and 10-0 in conference play with two games to go in the regular season. “I’m really pleased with that. We faced a little adversity, playing the second quarter without Abe. We defended well. We rebounded well. We shared the ball well. We shot it well. We were really efficient.”
Although Sentinel kept the game close early, the final score came to resemble the 64-34 road win Hellgate posted in the teams’ first crosstown meeting.
Richardson knocked down a 3-pointer early in the second quarter as the Knights began to build on their 18-11 lead. He drove to the basket with authority, scoring off a steal, an assist by Dylan Holst and an offensive rebound, the last one giving Hellgate a 39-22 lead in the final minute of the first half.
“He’s settling into what we ask of him, he’s embracing it, and he’s been playing well,” Hays said. “He’s been really good about the last four, five weeks playing solid defense, rebounding, playing under control. Early in the season, he was a little scattered, a little rushed. He was really strong finishing around the rim tonight and making his free throws.”
Johnson returned for the third quarter and scored the first basket as the Knights opened on a 14-4 run. They took a 53-30 lead into the quarter and only added from there, building their advantage to 41 points, 74-33.
“It was exciting,” Richardson said of winning the city title, “especially after losing to those guys last year a couple times. Just having all of our work culminate and putting it together on the biggest stage we’ve been on so far is pretty sweet.”
Sentinel sophomore Alex Germer, a 6-foot-6 forward, paced the team with 12 points, two rebounds, two blocks and on assists. He was the lone Spartan who scored more than five points.
Sentinel dropped to 10-5 overall and 7-2 in the Western AA, where it still remains in second place.