HELENA — With its back against the wall and its season on the line, Flathead fought to see another day.
The Braves separated early and were never threatened in a blowout win over Missoula Big Sky in a loser-out game at the Western AA divisional tournament at Helena High.
“There’s a tendency to be tight or nervous knowing if you don’t come out on top, your season’s over,” Flathead head coach Ross Gustafson said. “They did a great job of staying loose and just playing their game.”
The Braves were potently efficient offensively, especially in a dominant first half.
They made 16 of 26 field-goal attempts (61.5 percent) in the first 16 minutes and finished the game with a 57.8 percent clip from the field.
Tyler Johnson and Sam Elliott led 12 Flathead scorers with 11 points apiece.
“Guys were willing to make the extra pass,” Gustafson said. “We got a lot of good looks at the rim early on.”
Flathead also turned defense into offense, scoring 19 points off 15 Big Sky turnovers.
The Braves allowed only 12 points in the first half and opened a 49-17 lead in the third quarter before a late surge by the Eagles made the final more respectable.
“We wanted to keep the ball in front of us and put some pressure on and make things difficult for them,” Gustafson said.
Flathead also crashed the glass effectively, turning 11 offensive rebounds into a 13-0 advantage in second-chance points.
The Braves, who faced elimination after a 60-55 loss to Helena in Thursday’s opening round, are now one win away from the state tournament. They will face Glacier at 9 a.m. today in a crosstown showdown with immensely higher stakes than the first two meetings, both of which Flathead won.
The winner is on to the consolation final. The loser’s season is over.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Gustafson said. “Win and you go on to state. Lose and you go home. I think both teams will put an all-out effort onto the floor.”
Big Sky 7 5 13 19 — 44
Flathead 15 21 17 11 — 64
MISSOULA BIG SKY: Camdyn LaRance 9, David Gibson 5, McKee Muralt 2, Jordan Casselman 2, Andrew Gardenier 4, Mason Van Vallis 4, Levi Janacaro 1, Everett Fred 6, Brady Tabish 11.
FLATHEAD: Logan Siblerud 3, Stephen Bridges 8, Blake Counts 1, Clayton Jaques 3, Brett Thompson 3, Seth Moon 4, Eric Seaman 8, Tyler Johnson 11, Sam Elliott 11, Anthony Jones 2, Cade Gagnon 2, Dawson Smith 8.
Missoula Sentinel 46, Glacier 42
HELENA — It seemed like the third time would be the charm for Glacier.
After two regular-season losses to Missoula Sentinel, the Wolfpack led the third meeting by eight entering the final quarter.
Things slowly unraveled from there.
A Sam Beighle four-point play with less than 20 seconds remaining turned a two-point Glacier advantage into a two-point deficit, and the Spartans held on in the final moments to stun the Wolfpack in the Western AA semifinals.
“They made some big shots, made some big plays,” Glacier head coach Mark Harkins said.
“We had a couple of turnovers down the stretch that hurt us a little bit.”
One such turnover came with less than a minute left and gave Sentinel an opportunity to tie the game. Glacier surely couldn’t have even imagined such a game moments earlier.
The Wolfpack maintained its eight-point advantage until around the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter and led by as many as seven with less than three minutes left.
In the final few minutes, however, Beighle and Co. finally broke loose.
The Wolfpack limited Beighle, the state’s leading scorer, to 22 points, a relatively modest total when considering the combined 70 he posted in the teams’ first two matchups.
“Collin Kazmier and Kody Jarvis did a great job on him tonight,” Harkins said. “I thought the team, defensively, was very, very good tonight. They did exactly what we asked them to do.”
Brec Rademacher paced the Wolfpack with 16 points.
Glacier now finds itself in a do-or-die situation.
The Wolfpack faces crosstown rival Flathead, which it lost to twice in the regular season, at 9 a.m. today with a trip to next weekend’s state tournament on the line.
The challenge, Harkins said, is not only preparing for Flathead, but also mentally and emotionally overcoming the one that got away.
“The kids are pretty heartbroken tonight,” he said.
“We’ve got to be able to let it go, as hard as that is.”
Glacier 11 6 16 9 — 42
Sentinel 8 7 10 21 — 46
Glacier: Brec Rademacher 16, Drew Engellant 10, Collin Kazmier 9, Caden Harkins 3, Kody Jarvis 2, Nick Whitman 2.
MISSOULA Sentinel: Sam Beighle 22, Gaige DeShazer 11, Brayden Danzinger 4, Trey Kolb 4, Nick Germer 3, Brandon Morley 2.
Missoula Sentinel 49, Glacier 27
HELENA — Things started badly and quickly worsened for the Glacier girls in the Western AA semifinals.
The Wolfpack was assessed a technical foul before play even began for one player’s incorrect jersey number, handing Missoula Sentinel an early lead.
The Spartans held on to it from there on, outscoring Glacier 12-0 in the first quarter and 26-6 in the first half of a blowout win.
No individual scorer eclipsed five points for the Wolfpack, and the team was held under 30 points for only the third time this season.
Glacier’s loss sets up a loser-out showdown with Missoula Hellgate at 9 a.m. today.
The Wolfpack swept the regular-season series against the Knights, winning 35-30 in Missoula and 55-38 in Kalispell.
Glacier 0 6 14 7 — 27
Sentinel 12 14 13 10 — 49
GLACIER: Ellie Stevens 1, Kali Gulick 5, Bria Anderson 4, Aubrie Rademacher 2, Anna Schrade 5, Kaileigh Crawford 3, Alivia Atlee 2, Ellie Keller 1, Raley Shirey 4.
MISSOULA SENTINEL: Lauren Bingham 5, Shelby Schweyen 2, Emma Blakely 6, Kylie Frohlich 15, Jordyn Schweyen 7, Kayla Daily 3, Lexi Deden 10, Ashley Mcelmurry 1.