HELENA — No. 2 Hellgate defeated No. 7 Big Sky 58-48 in Game 2 of the AA Western Conference divisional tournament, advancing to the semifinals on Friday at 8 p.m. versus Helena High.
The Eagles will play that game's loser in an elimination game at 5 p.m.
"You would think on paper it wouldn't be that close of a game, but this is tournament," said Hellgate coach Jeff Hayes, referring to the fact that at one point early in the fourth quarter the underdog and winless Eagles were within just three points of the Knights. "We did just enough to win, so it's survive and advance.
"Big Sky played hard and they played well. We had trouble finishing, so tomorrow we'll want to value the basketball and play better."
Hellgate jumped out to an 11-2 first quarter lead, before the Eagles closed the gap to 22-16 at halftime. Rollie Worster and Bridger Deden paced the Knights with 18 and 11 points. Camdyn LaRance netted 13 for MBS.
"We came to win, and we thought we had the game plan to do it," Big Sky coach Bryan Ferriter said. "The kids executed the plan, that's all you can ask for and I'm very proud of them. Free throws made the difference; Hellgate took 39 free throws and we only had eight.
"So tomorrow we go out for the win."
Glacier 51 Capital 35
No. 4 Glacier High opened the Western AA tournament in The Jungle with a 51-35 round 1 win over No. 5 Capital High, behind the 21-point effort of Brec Rademacher.
Glacier advances to the semifinals versus No. 1 Missoula Sentinel on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Capital receives a bye to Saturday at 10:30 a.m., versus the loser of one of the semifinal games.
"You know our last game with Capital, even though we won by double digits, we felt they outplayed us the second half. So we challenged the kids not to let that happen again, and they responded," Glacier coach Mark Harkins said. "We rebounded well, and by Brec shooting 66 percent, that really stretched out the floor for us."
The Wolfpack led 12-5 after the first quarter, and 23-15 at halftime. Glacier shot 62 percent from the floor, led by Rademacher, ho drained 6 of 9 from 3-point land. Teammate Cody Jarvis netted 10 points. Capital, whose top scorer, Bridger Grovom was sidelined with an injury, made just 30 percent from the field. CHS was led by Cade Kidder's 10 points.
"Losing Bridger was a tough blow, he's our floor leader and playmaker," Bruin coach Guy Almquist said. "This loss was a simple matter of one team making their shots, and the other didn't. So now we play on Saturday morning, and if we win that one we're going to State."
Helena 60, Flathead 55
No. 6 Helena High upset No. 3 Flathead High, 60-55 in the third game on Thursday. The Bengals advance to the 8 p.m. semifinals on Friday against Hellgate. The Braves face Big Sky at 5 p.m. in an elimination contest.
"It was a fun game, and the tournament atmosphere, with the crowd support, really got the kids into it," said HHS coach Brandon Day, whose team put four cagers in double figures. "There's so much focus on Connor Murgel (the Bengals' top scorer), the some of the other guys were able to capitalize on it."
The game was nip and tuck throughout the duration, with Helena leading at the end of every quarter; 11-10 after the first, 27-22 at halftime and 38-31 heading into the fourth. Flathead tied the score three times in the final frame, only to see the Bengals edge away in the final moments.
Murgel and Hayden Ferguson paced Helena with 16 and 15 points, respectively. The Braves were led by Tyler Johnson's 20 markers.
"Hats off to coach Day and Helena High, they came ready to play," Flathead coach Gustafson said. "I don't think any of my guys played the best, and when that happens it's on the coach. But the good news is we still have life tomorrow."