HELENA — It took longer than expected, but Kalispell Flathead's first win of the 2021-22 season felt really good all the same.
"Our first games were a struggle," Flathead's Joston Cripe said. "But getting this win, that's going to get our momentum going."
Momentum is a subjective thing and sometimes, you just have to create your own, which Cripe and the Braves did Friday night in the Jungle, defeating the Bengals 55-48 thanks to 11 points in the fourth from Cripe and 27 total.
"He just makes plays," Flathead boys head coach Dirk Johnsrud said. "He's a helluva playmaker. Sometimes, you just have to kind of sit back and let him do his thing."
And he loves the Jungle.
Last season, Cripe broke the hearts of Helena High with a buzzer-beater and this time around, a series of fourth quarter buckets allowed the Braves to rally from a six-point deficit to notch the win.
"Last year, after hitting that game-winner, I came in and had a lot of confidence," he said. "But I couldn't have had a great fourth quarter without my teammates help. They were getting me the ball and trusting me with it and I appreciate that."
True to form, just about every time Flathead needed a bucket it turned to Cripe and more often than not, he delivered.
With the Braves trailing by six in the third, he scored five straight points to trim the deficit to one. Then, in the fourth quarter, he earned multiple 3-point play opportunities, although one he wasn't able to finish after he was forced to leave momentarily due to a cut on his arm.
When he was on the floor though, there was no stopping him.
As he said, his teammates helped too. Only allowing 19 points defensively in the second half was key and so was a fourth-quarter 3-ball from Luca Zoeller, who had seven points, which gave Flathead a 42-21 lead.
The Bengals responded but Cripe answered by scoring the next seven points to push the Flathead lead to six. Kaden Huot knocked down a trey to get HHS back within three at 49-46 with 1:03 left to go, but the Braves iced the seven-point win at the line.
"This is a big win for us," Johnsrud said. "I'm just so proud of the way the kids competed. I thought we rebounded really well and the biggest thing is we got to the free line. We didn't shoot a great percentage, but in (Class) AA to come on the road and get a win, we'll take it."
As hot as Cripe was to finish the game, Colter Petre played the same way to start it, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the opening stanza as the Bengals built a 16-9 advantage.
The Braves went on a 9-0 run to grab the lead in the second quarter, yet the Bengals answered with an 8-0 run of their own to take a 29-24 halftime lead.
Late in the third though, Cripe started to heat up and the Bengals just didn't have an answer.
"We started with a lot of energy," Helena High head coach Brandon Day said. "And we just petered out. I blame myself. I probably should have mixed up some defenses, but there was a couple of times where the ball just didn't bounce our way and that's how it goes sometimes."
Dylan Christman paced Helena High with 14 points and Tevin Wetzel matched Petre with 12 in the defeat for the Bengals (2-4, 1-1). Helena will look to rebound against Glacier on Saturday. The Wolfpack lost to Capital Friday night.
"As always our boys played hard," Day said. "And that's what I love about this group of boys. We just need to come out and get a win tomorrow. That's important because going back down there (to Kalispell) won't be easy."
Tip off between the Wolfpack and Bengals is set for 2 p.m.