BUTTE — The Helena High girls basketball team became the first team to capture a third consecutive Class AA state title since Missoula Sentinel did it in 2014.
The Bengals used a third-quarter surge and drawing Billings West into foul trouble that allowed them to win 55-37 Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center.
The electrified Bengals bench shouted "three-peat" repetitively to an ecstatic fan base in the final minute of the game.
Helena was led by University of Montana-bound Jamie Pickens and the player who won back-to-back Montana Gatorade Player of the Year awards. She poured in a game-high 18 points.
"We know during state basketball you have to hit shots," Pickens said. "I credit Riley (Thennis) for coming in the clutch and the (Aasved) twins for starting to hit threes."
Billings West was led by TyRaa Manuel, who finished the night with a double-double, grabbing 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Helena was able to get West into significant foul trouble. The Golden Bears committed 19 fouls, compared to 13 fouls for the Bengals.
The Golden Bears' field-goal percentage dropped significantly in the second half as they shot 5-for-25 from the floor in the second half.
"I think a team like Helena High you saw the poise, and our team is very experienced, and we've played a lot of varsity basketball, we were just out of sync tonight," Billings West coach Charlie Johnson said. "We made a lot of careless passes, and if we cut down the turnovers (this game) would be a different story. Helena is a great team, and they did an amazing job, and made the plays when they needed to."
The Bengals entered the state tournament as the No. 3 seeded,and upended the top seed by forcing some of the key players into foul trouble. Helena, ranked No. 1 by the 406mtsports.com the majority of the season, struggled late in the season with a Feb. 15 34-31 loss to Glacie and a 54-50 loss to the Hellgate in the Class AA Western semifinals.
However, they redeemed themselves with three-consecutive victories over Great Falls, Helena Capital, and Billings West.
"It's hard to three-peat," Bengals coach Eric Peterson said. "There are a lot of good coaches, and players, and I have a lot of respect for the Class AA basketball in general, and our girls had to step up to win three in a row, and that is pretty special."
The Bengals, whose third-quarter surge outscoring Billings West 19-10, after being tied 21, got the necessary separation they needed.
According to Peterson, the Bengals proved what they felt heading into the tournament.
"We have a very confident group," Peterson said. "All season we felt like we had the best team in the state, and the girls proved it tonight."
Hellgate 51, Capital 38
Missoula Hellgate made good on its fourth opportunity to defeat Capital with a 51-38 victory to capture third place in the state tournament Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center.
Three times, twice during the regular season and once during the divisional tournament, Hellgate fell short each time. This time, Knights coach Rob Henthorn and his team would not be denied.
They gained a 24-17 halftime separation, and never relinquished the lead, after that point.
"(Our team) just executed from beginning to the end of the 32 minutes, and we held them on defense, and we had to get a lot of rebounds, and took care of business as a team," Henthorn said. "(All season) we talked about being a family and being together, and we win as one, and we lose as one."
Bailee Sayler led Hellgate with a game-high 22 points. Emma Blakely finished with 10 points.
Capital's Sydney Sheridan finished with nine points.
Bruins coach Katie Garcin-Forba said Hellgate didn't do anything different, but played hard.
"They honestly didn't show us anything different," Garcin-Forba said. "They played their 1-2-2, they ran the same offensive sets, and we were just a step behind. I felt as a whole that their players stepped up, and Sayler just played fantastic tonight, and that was big for them."
The Bruins finished the season with four losses, three of them coming to their rival Helena, and one to Hellgate
"We couldn't be more proud of this group, regardless of the outcome," Garcin-Forba said. "I thought they worked hard together to build chemistry and all of that stuff, and we had different kids step up at different times. And they could stay hungry, and want to go back, and have a get back next year. Our seniors did a fantastic job of leading us, and being our identity of our team."
Capital defeated Kalispell Glacier 56-36 in an elimination game of the AA state tournament Saturday morning at the Butte Civic Center.
The Bruins advanced to the third-place against Missoula Hellgate where they will play at 5 p.m.
Dani Bartsch led the Bruins with 12 points. Glacier was led by Raley Shirey, also with 12 points.
Hellgate defeated Great Falls 40-25 in the other semifinal consolation bracket game Saturday morning at Butte High. Kylie Lunday led the team with 15 points.