HELENA — The crosstown rivalry between Helena High and Helena Capital is intense and Friday night, it will spill over into boys basketball.
And whether it’s on the gridiron, basketball court, or wherever, it always means a little extra.
“Every crosstown game feels like a divisional or state tournament game,” Helena High’s Hayden Ferguson said. “It’s just the entire atmosphere that comes with it and you know you have just about the entire town there watching or listening on the radio.”
You can try to say it’s just another game. But even Bengals head coach Brandon Day admits it’s not.
“As much as we try to make it like any other game,” Day said. “You have more of a crowd and more noise and it’s just a more exciting atmosphere. I know the kids are excited and I am excited for the ones that haven’t gotten a chance to play in it yet.”
Capital head coach Guy Almquist made no qualms about what crosstown means to his program.
“It’s a big deal and I don’t think we should try to pretend that it’s not,” Almquist said. “I think we need to embrace that. You need to be able to raise up your level when you get to tournament play and a crosstown game, that’s great practice for that, so we embrace it and look forward to it.”
Last season, each team won once in their own gym. But later on, the Bengals (3-5) eliminated Capital at the state tournament to earn some bragging rights.
Yet, after having their three-game win streak on the football field snapped last fall, Bengals such as Logan Brown, who like Ferguson, Kaden Huot and Ayden Fasbender faced Capital on the gridiron, are itching for a little payback.
“I haven’t thought about that a whole lot,” Brown said. “I think anytime its crosstown, you really want to win. But losing in football probably gives us a little more motivation. It will be fun to compete against them again. We know each other so well, it adds something to it.”
While the Bengals don’t lack motivation, neither does Capital (6-2) as the seniors aim to win in their final crosstown game at the Bears Den.
“I am really excited,” Capital’s Parker Johnston said. “It will be my last crosstown at home, so it will be emotional but we just have to play our game.”
A big part of the Bruins’ game is hitting 3-pointers and with his first bomb against Missoula Sentinel last Saturday, Bridger Grovom became Capital’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals.
“It means a lot but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Grovom said. “It’s kind of crazy, I actually didn’t realize it until later that week.”
Grovom is one of three Bruins scoring in double figures and he leads the team with an average of 14.7 points per game. The senior is also averaging 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and is shooting 50 percent (19-of-38) from beyond the arc.
As a team, Capital is making an average of seven 3-pointers a game and also hitting those shots at a 37-percent clip. Brayden Koch (13 ppg) and Trevor Swanson (13.1 ppg) have also been reliable deep shooters with a combined 30 triples between them.
“They play small and they play fast,” Day said of the Bruins. “It’s just a matter of playing solid defense and making sure that we don’t give them any easy ones.”
Getting stops will be key for the Bengals, but so will their ability to control the tempo.
Through eight games, Capital is scoring 64 points a game compared to 41 for their rivals. Helena also has 21 3-pointers to its credit, while CHS has connected on 56.
The Bengals may have the No. 13 scoring offense in Class AA right now, however, they also boast the No. 2 defense and are sixth when it comes to field-goal percentage defense as opposed to the Bruins, who are first in points per game and shooting percentage.
“We go into every game hoping to play our tempo,” Almquist said. “But we also have to be able to win any kind of game. It’s easier to slow down a game than it is to speed one up and we have talked to our kids this week about embracing the grind. We don’t have to be up 10-12 points to feel like we are playing well. We just need to be on top at the end.”
This season, Capital and Helena High have little in common, except for a burning desire to beat each other Friday night.
“It would mean a lot to win the game,” Grovom said. “We are excited and we are confident.”
Tip-off is set for 7:15 p.m.