Dani Bartsch

Dani Bartsch drives by a Missoula Hellgate defender earlier this season in the Bears Den in Helena. On Thursday, Bartsch was named Montana's Gatorade Player of the Year for girls basketball. 

HELENA — If there's any doubt about who the team to beat is in Class AA girls basketball this year, there might not be any longer. 

Because with a 14-point defeat of top-ranked Missoula Hellgate Tuesday night at the Bears Den in Helena, in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated, the Bruins sent a message to the Knights and the rest of Class AA with a 44-30 win.

"This feels extremely good," Capital senior Dani Bartsch said. "Especially knowing these guys beat us last time. We felt like we played terrible and for us to come out, knocking downs shots and being aggressive was huge for us."

If there's one word to describe the way Bartsch played in the first half against Hellgate, aggressive would be it and frankly, the Knights resistance was futile. 

Bartsch did whatever she wanted in the first half, connecting on 4-of-5 shots. She made a 3-pointer, scored on a back-door cut and scored nine in a row at one point as the Bruins built a 15-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"I only had 10 points the last time we played them and I didn't hardly attack at all," Bartsch said. "Attacking definitely opens up the floor for other people. It was a big thing for me to come out aggressive tonight."

In the second quarter, Capital's aggressive mentality translated to the defensive end where the Bruins smothered Hellgate in the first half.

The No. 1 Knights managed just 11 shot attempts in the first half, including just five between Addy Heaphy and Bailee Sayler, two of their top scorers.

"Our defensive effort was top notch," Capital head coach Katie Garcin-Forba said. "We knew that Jaymee (Sheridan) and Audrey (Hofer) were going to get hit with a ton of screens and you have to give our guards a ton of credit, because they really made it hard to score."

Outside of one turnover, Sheridan was flawless running the point for Capital as the Bruins finished the game with four turnovers, compared to nine for Hellgate. They also assisted on 12 of their 17 field goals. 

And while CHS scored a blistering 1.65 points per possession in the first half, the Bruins defense held Hellgate to a meager 0.68 and for the game, the Knights were just 9-of-33 from the field (27.3 percent) and held to just 22 percent in the second half.

Down 28-13 at the intermission, the Knights showed some life early in the third quarter as two 3-pointers in short order by Heaphy and Perry Paffhausen cut the Capital lead down to nine.

But Bartsch quickly answered with a 3-point play and soon after, Audrey Hofer banked in a triple to send the Bruins to the fourth up 13.

To put the game away, the Bruins turned to Paige Bartsch, who scored a number of buckets inside in the fourth as Capital opened up its biggest lead of the night at 40-23.

When it was all said and done, the Bartsch twins combined for 34 points, 19 rebounds and six assists.

Dani had another 20 points, but also added six offensive rebounds for good measure. She finished 7 of 11 from the field but also managed four assists.

"She's just really doing a good job," Garcin-Forba said of Dani Bartsch. "They did a good job of taking her out of her game that last time and tonight, she just came very mentally ready and I thought that showed. She's just playing like a senior." 

Paige had a quiet double-double with 14 and 10. She made six of the 10 shots she attempted. 

On the Hellgate side, the Knights got nine points from Alex Covill, who also grabbed four rebounds. Sayler also had nine.

The Bruins (9-1) will host Kalispell Flathead on Thursday. Hellgate (9-1) will take on Butte Friday. 

Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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