Lady Spartans dominate Billings West for state three-peat


Missoula, Mont. - Missoula Sentinel 48, Billings West 30 (Girls Championship)

For the fourth year in a row the Lady Spartans advanced to Saturday night and the right to battle for a state title; for the third year in a row it was Sentinel High who came away victorious with the title of #1 in the state after securing the 48-30 win over Billings West at the state AA tournament in Billings.

Saturday night was a nervous affair for Sentinel before the game had even started as the squad would have to do battle without their senior guard Maddie Keast, who suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the Spartans' semifinal win against Glacier on Friday. The future Lady Griz player suited up and gritted her teeth through the pain in warm-ups, but the star was not able to join her teammates in the championship battle.

But even without Keast's talents the Spartans wasted no time asserting themselves against the Bears from Billings West. The Spartans led 17-9 after the first quarter and upped the advantage to 31-20 by halftime. By late in the fourth quarter the Spartans were well on their way to victory and head coach Karen Deden was able to empty the bench and allow her entire squad to get some minutes in the title contest.

That included senior Maddie Keast who fought through her pain and played the final 17.5 seconds of action in the final high school game of her terrific career.

"It's amazing, obviously I wish I could have been out there on the court," said Keast after the game. "But to be able to go back to back is the most amazing thing I could have asked for."

Senior Olivia Roberts scored early and often for her Spartans. The future Wyoming Cowgirl finished with game-highs of 18 points and 9 rebounds.

"There's no better feeling in the world, I wanted this so bad," said Roberts. "It's amazing to be in the state championship every single year in my high school career."

Fellow seniors Sammie Harper (12 points) and Emily Beach (10 points) joined Roberts in double-figures.

The Spartans lose some irreplaceable talent in a six-deep senior class consisting of two D-1 bound athletes (Roberts and Keast) as well as Henning, Wulff, Harper and Beach. However there's no reason to think that coach Deden won't pull another contender out of her hat next season when junior staring point guard Lexi Steele enters her fourth varsity season along with experienced varsity players like Haley Rogers and Shannon Worster.

"I can't describe it, it's an incredible feeling," said the junior Steele about winning her third state title. "I can't thank the seniors more for what they've taught me and what they've done. It's just amazing to have a three-peat with these girls. They've worked so hard and we've put so much time into this."

The Lady Spartans become just the third girls team in class AA history to win three state titles in a row. Great Falls High (1980-82) and Billings West (2003-05) are the only other girls programs to accomplish such a stretch of excellence.

Helena Capital 51, Missoula Hellgate 47 (Boys Championship)

Unlike last season the "Missoula sweep" was not meant to be at the Class AA tournament this year. Helena Capital got it's revenge in a rematch of last year's title bout and the Bruins edged out Missoula Hellgate 51-47.

It was anybody's game heading into the final quarter of play as Hellgate was clinging to a 30-29 advantage over the Bruins. In the final four minutes of play the game was deadlocked at 36-36, but then Capital got a pair of three from their senior marksman Kyle Nichol and the Bruins grabbed control.

Still even with the Knights trailing 48-41 the defending state champs managed to make things stressful on Helena Capital.

Consecutive pressure threes by Devin Bray and Tres Tinkle made it a 49-47 game with 6.5 seconds left to play.

"We're just a bunch of fighters. We're never going to give up, you know?" said Tinkle about his team's late push that ultimately fell just short. "We have so much trust in each other that we're all going to hit open shots."

However, Nichol knocked down both of his attempts from the charity stripe to vanquish any ideas of a heroic buzzer beater and Capital was able to celebrate their second state title in school history and first since 1983.

Tinkle recorded yet another memorable championship performance, finishing with game-highs of 24 points and nine rebounds.

Hellgate loses six seniors after this season but still has plenty of optimism as they peer into the future of Knights basketball. Hellgate will return three starting players next season in Tinkle, Devin Bray and Rhett Baerlocher.