HELENA — After pulling off three upsets at the Western AA Divisional basketball tournament, the Helena High boys basketball team will make their its State tourney appearance in two years.
The Western Conference's No. 3 Bengals (8-14) will face Bozeman (15-7), No. 2 from the Eastern Conference at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday during the opening round in Billings’ Rimrock Auto Arena MetraPark.
Missoula Sentinel (17-3) is the Western Conference champion, while the East’s titlists are the CMR Rustlers (17-4).
Helena was the conference’s No. 6 seed, but reeled off upset wins over No. 3 Flathead, No. 5 Capital and No. 4 Glacier to garner the division’s third-place trophy.
The last time the Bengals reached the State tournament was 2016 when they placed fourth.
Helena opened this season strong with a win over Butte, but then stumbled with a six-game losing streak, including two losses to the Hawks.
But the Bengals are now playing their best ball of the year, having won four of their last five heading to Billings.
During those games, the they have been shaded by an average score of just 47-45.
Bozeman holds a 56-51 scoring advantage over its opponents.
“The boys are excited for the opportunity to go to state and we hope to continue playing like we did at divisionals,” said first-year coach Brandon Day, who played in three state tournaments with the Bengals from 1998-2000.
Helena’s leading scorer is junior Connor Murgel, who averages 11.8 points a game. A 5-foot-10 guard, Murgel is ranked No. 5 in the state in 3-point field goals, and tops the team in free-throw shooting.
Junior forward/post Alex Johnson, at 6-4, paces Helena under the glass with 4.1 rebounds a game, and scores 6.2 points per game.
Next is Hayden Ferguson at 6.5 points, while Dawson Tedesco and Caleb Ferguson, who both rank in the top-five in Class AA in steals, average 6.0 and 3.7 ppg.
“We just need to play physical, limit our turnovers and shoot with confidence,” said Day, when asked the keys for his team’s success."