The Helena High girls basketball team attempted nearly as many 3-point field goals as 2-pointers on Tuesday night in a 49-42 win over Missoula Sentinel.
In a way, that is what helped the Bengals build a healthy enough lead to overcome a late surge by the Spartans and move to 2-1 under newly-minted head coach Ben Dudek.
“I thought it was a tough, physical game that we were prepared for,” Bengals head coach Ben Dudek said. “We knew what they brought, they’re a very experienced team that has won a lot of games. We knew that we were going to have to be physical because we were outsized, for sure.”
Dudek’s team was physical throughout, committing 19 team fouls, but also out-rebounding the Spartans 31-29 and 9-6 on the offensive glass despite being at a noticeable size disadvantage on the inside.
A close game that featured five lead changes and four ties, it came down to clutch shooting and timely offensive rebounding for the Bengals. Up by just a pair with under two minutes left, Helena High turned a missed free throw into a made 3-point basket to grab a five-point advantage.
Bengals senior guard Kylie Lantz then traded a 2-pointer from Sentinel for one of her two 3-pointers on the night, seizing a six-point Helena High lead with just 83 seconds left in the contest.
At that point, it came down to free-throw shooting for the Bengals and withstanding the Spartans’ full-court pressure. Senior Brooke Ark put the bow on her 21-point performance with two free throws late and finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
“We had players that just stepped up in big ways and hit big shots in big moments down the stretch in that fourth quarter,” Dudek said. “It was a team win. Those girls came out ready to play and they’re going to reap the rewards from it.”
From significantly further, Ark was nearly as perfect. As a team the Bengals shot 45 percent (9-for-20) from 3-point range, including Ark’s 5-for-7 effort from distance. Lantz knocked down two three’s of her own as over 64 percent of Helena High’s made baskets on the night were 3-pointers.
“I think when you’re a team that’s a little inexperienced at the varsity level like we are, to see that ball go through the hoop in big moments is a huge confidence boost,” Dudek said. “We did that Saturday as well...For those players to hit shots in those moments is hopefully just going to grow that confidence moving into the rest of the season.”
Lantz ended her night with 12 points as the only other Bengal in double digits, while senior Reegan Walsh and sophomore Maloree English chipped in six and five points, respectively.
Despite grabbing the lead in a physical third quarter that saw the teams combine for just 14 points, Sentinel could not string together enough shots to keep up down the stretch. For the game, the Spartan made just 12 field goals, including a 3-for-19 effort from long-range. While Sentinel actually shot better than Helena High from inside the arch, it was the lack of a big shot at the right moment that spelled defeat for the Spartans.
Senior Challis Westwater paced Sentinel with 14 points, 10 of which came from the free throw line. Westwater also booked a game-high four blocks and logged five rebounds to go along with her two assists. Junior Brooke Stayner joined Westwater in double digits with 10 points before she fouled out late in the ball game.
“I think we did a good job getting the ball inside and I thought some things didn’t go our way in the fourth quarter,” Sentinel head coach Karen Deden said. “Overall, I thought our kids played hard. Those guys shot amazing from the 3-point line and I think that was the difference.”
Sophomore CC Size added eight points for the Spartans, while senior Jayden Salisbury and junior Kodi Fraser each contributed four points.
The Helena High girls will be back in action on Thursday on the road against Missoula Big Sky. Tip off for that game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Missoula Sentinel returns home on Saturday against Helena Capital for a 4:15 tip off.