BUTTE — The Helena High girls basketball team is now one victory away from the elusive three-peat at the Class AA state tournament.
The Bengals defeated Helena Capital 38-28 in the semifinals semifinal Friday night at the Butte Civic Center.
They faces off with Billings West at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. Capital will play Kalispell Glacier at 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning at Butte Civic Center. The winner will play for third place later in the day.
Helena defeating its crosstown rival for the third consecutive time this season wasn't easy. The Bengals struggled with Capital's early game plan to mix up defenses, and they were outscored 9-0 in the second quarter.
"They were just mixing up their defenses, and it took them a while to get adjusted, and we didn't shoot the ball very well (in the first half)," Bengals coach Eric Peterson said. "We had some good looks at the basket, and just got blanked in the second quarter, and (our team) knew if our defense would prevail, and we only allowed a high-powered offense in Capital to score 28 points (during the entire game), and that is what won us the game."
Jamie Pickens led the Bengals with team-high 14 points, despite getting in early foul trouble. Vanessa Walsh also finished with 11 points. Capital didn't have a single player score in double-digits in the loss.
Capital coach Katie Garcin-Forba credited Helena with making significant adjustments in the second quarter of the game.
"They attacked the rim well," Garcin-Forba said. "Vanessa (Walsh) attacked the rim, and we needed to adjust on some shots down the stretch, and we had a few shots that just rolled out."
Peterson said he felt getting ready for Billings West, a team that dominated Hellgate will be different because neither side has seen each other all season.
"It's different they have one loss (all season), and we know they are a quality program," Peterson said. "They've been storming through this tournament, and we will have to spend tomorrow preparing for them, and have the girls ready."
Billings West 56, Hellgate 36
Billings West will be playing a new opponent in the AA girls championship game after a victory over Missoula Hellgate 56-36 Friday night at the Butte Civic Center.
The Golden Bears advanced to the title game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Civic Center.
Hellgate will play Great Falls in an elimination game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Butte High.
Billings West coach Charlie Johnson, who hasn't seen either Capital or Helena during the regular season, knows his team will be ready for whoever they have to play.
"I think there is a lot of similarity with both Helena Capital and Helena High that our teams have," Johnson said. "I've watched a lot of film (on both teams) from the beginning of the season, and know what they like do to."
The Golden Bears force 22 turnovers, had seven steals and five blocks as they dominated the Knights from the opening tipoff.
"I think our team did very well on defense for three quarters," Johnson said. "We were flying around, and battled early, and came out and ran the floor with a good (Hellgate team)."
Billings West had three players score in double-figures with Manuel TyLee and Willa Albrecht both finishing with a team-high 12 points. Shayla Montague also finished with 10.
Emma Blakely led the Knights with nine.
Knights coach Rob Henthorn, whose team played West in the first game of the season, said he felt the Golden Bears had significantly improved since the first game of the season.
"They came out to play and executed their offense, and they found all of our holes in our defense, and our zone defense," Henthorn said. "They had a great game plan to get the ball inside early and to try to force us into mistakes with their athleticism and length."
Great Falls 40, Butte 38
Great Falls defeated Butte 40-38 in an elimination game of the AA state tournament Friday afternoon at the Butte Civic Center. The Bison advance to face Hellgate game at 10:30 a.m. at Butte High.
Bison player Erin Watt led her team with a team-high 13 points. Carroll College-bound Ally Cleverly finished with a game-high 17 points for Butte, while teammate Aspen Lovshin finished with 10.
The Bison entered the tournament as the fourth-seeded team out of the East, and hope to win the next game and advance to the third-place game.
Kalispell Glacier 52, Billings Senior 33
Kalispell Glacier defeated Billings Senior 52-33 in an elimination game of the AA state basketball tournament Friday afternoon.
The Wolfpack advances to play the loser of the Helena-Capital game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning with an opportunity to play for third place.
Glacier had two players who scored in double-digits with Kali Gulick, who scored a game-high 14 points, and Ellie Keller finished the game with 13 points.
Billings Senior player Brenna Linse finished with a team-high 12 points.