MISSOULA — Sentinel’s magical season continued Tuesday, but it didn’t come without quite the challenge from a motivated Hellgate squad and some drama in the fourth quarter.
The top-ranked and undefeated Spartans rallied from a deficit entering the final frame to emerge with a 65-56 victory over the third-ranked Knights to capture the Western AA title and the city championship. Both of those accomplishments are a first for the Spartans since 2018.
“It was a rock fight,” Sentinel first-year coach Jason Maki said. “Playing Hellgate is a rock fight.”
Sentinel outscored Hellgate 27-17 in the fourth quarter after facing a 39-38 deficit through three quarters. The Spartans nearly outscored the Knights that quarter from just the charity stripe, converting 13 of their 15 free throw attempts while making 20 of 25 in the game. Hellgate was 3 of 4 in the fourth quarter and 12 of 19 in the game.
Sentinel senior Alex Germer scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the final 5:12 after sitting with foul trouble early and taking limited shots as the Knights keyed in on him after he went off for 51 points on Friday against Big Sky. Senior Tony Frohlich-Fair added seven of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, while senior Hayden Kolb added nine points despite foul trouble.
“We ran out of steam at the end, and they put us away,” Hellgate coach Jeff Hays said. “That’s what great teams do: they put you away.”
Sentinel might not have been in position for a comeback if not for the play of seniors Soren Syvrud and TJ Rausch in the opening three quarters. They combined for 22 points, including 12 in the first quarter as Sentinel built a 17-14 lead as Hellgate's defenders sagged off and dared them to shoot.
Syvrud tallied 11 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals. Rausch added 11 points, two rebounds and one assist.
"One of our goals all season has been wanting to be the Western AA champs, so that was a big win for us," Syvrud said. "We’re not exactly pleased it was that intense of a game. It was pretty dramatic there, and we were down going to the fourth, so it was big for us to come and battle back. I think that’s going to be a big deal going into state because we’re going to see tougher teams and closer games."
Sentinel moved to 12-0 with the win, while Hellgate dropped to 9-4. The Knights, who’ve locked up the No. 2 seed in the Western AA, were coming off an upset loss to Helena Capital on Monday, which snapped their Class AA-best 19-game home win streak.
Hellgate was looking to start another home win streak in emphatic fashion and took a 39-38 lead into the fourth quarter when Brogan Callaghan scored a fast break layup to beat the buzzer. He finished with a team-high 17 points and had 11 in the second half as the Knights recovered from a 27-26 deficit at the intermission.
“I thought we bounced back well from (Monday),” Hays said. “I thought we did all the things that we wanted to do, granted there were a few mistakes here and there. They made a few more plays than we did at the end. But I was really pleased with our effort, both our physical effort and the mental effort.
“We’ve got to bring that consistency every time. We don’t have the talented just to show up and play. We have to show up and bring it, a physical and mental effort for every opponent.”
The Knights built their lead as big as three points, 41-38, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter and led 48-47 with 3:56 to play. Then Germer took over. He made two free throws, sank his first field goal of the game, added another free throw and drained a 3-pointer. When Haiden Crews added a free throw, Sentinel was up 56-49 just 66 seconds after trailing.
Hellgate wasn’t going away and pulled within 56-53 when Beckett Arthur and Dre Bowie each hit a floater before a timeout with 49.8 seconds to play. Germer then made two free throws, Frohlich-Fair followed with two freebies, Germer threw a full-court pass to Frohlich-Fair for a layup and Germer added two free throws, pushing the lead to 64-53 in just 34.1 seconds.
“We couldn’t weather the Germer storm in the fourth quarter,” Hays said. “He was aggressive going to the basket and got to the free throw line, and we can’t guard him from there.”
Hellgate closes the regular season Thursday at Missoula Big Sky. Sentinel plays at Helena on Thursday and at Butte on Friday. Both teams will host a state tournament play-in game next week.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Hellgate again in the state tournament,” Maki said. “They had a great game plan. They did a great job. I knew one of the worst things that could happen is they lost (Monday), so I knew that was bad for us.”