Midway through the second quarter of the girls crosstown battle Friday night, Helena High's Jamie Pickens made a play that her coach credits, in part, to turning the game in favor of the Lady Bengals.
Trailing Capital High by three in their second meeting of the year, and at Helena's end of Harper Court, Pickens missed a shot underneath and CHS appeared to have gathered in a defensive rebound and gained possession. Most of the girls were headed back downcourt, but somehow the ball caromed off two Lady Bruins, and kicked out to Pickens on the far right side.
With her back to the hoop, Helena's 6-foot-1 sophomore post then took one dribble, spun around and fired a nearly blind 3-point bomb from the corner that hit nothing but net to tie it up. Although the Lady Bruins would go back in front on a pair of Taylor Sullivan free throws, another trey by Pickens moments later put the hosts back in front, by one.
The hosts proceeded to rip off a 20-4 run through the rest of the first half until late in the third period, building a huge advantage to all but cement the victory. HHS held on the rest of the way for a 55-35 win, giving the red-and-white a season sweep. Helena won the first contest this season, 51-41.
Helena High improves to 15-3 overall and 8-2 in the Western Conference, while Capital slides to 11-7, 5-5.
"When Jamie hit that first 3, I knew she was going to have a good game," said coach Eric Peterson. "She was feeling the pressure underneath, so we moved her out to the perimeter the second half, and switched Taelyr (Krantz) to the inside."
Pickens finished with a game-high 19 points, hitting 8 of 12 from the floor -- including a perfect 2-for-2 night from 3-point land -- and was 1 of 2 at the free-throw line.
Helena shot 45 percent from the floor, 22 for 48, and was even better from downtown, draining 8 of 16 from beyond the stripe for a 50 percent accuracy. Capital was 12 for 35 (34 percent) from the field, and also shot well from outside the arc, going 4 for 10 (40 percent).
The home team raced out to an early 9-3 lead in The Jungle before Capital came back to make it 10-8. HHS' Jessica Ellsworth hit one of her two treys, and the Lady Bengals led 13-8 after the opening quarter.
Then the brown-and-gold showed their talents, going on a 10-2 run powered by two Sullivan baskets and a pair of 3-pointers by Megan Lindbo. That made it 18-15, before Pickens' game-changing artistry.
The Lady Bengals led 27-22 at halftime, and 44-28 after three stanzas. Among the second-half highlights were a steal and coast-to-coast play by HHS' Kamden Hilborn, a part layup, part hook shot by teammate Sam Holman, and three of Sullivan's four blocked shots for Capital.
Helena's defense limited their counterparts to 13 second-half points, and forced a turnover margin of 19-8. The hosts pirated 10 steals on the night, led by Hilborn's three swipes.
"Our defense made the difference," said Pickens, regarding the keys to their win. "We came out and played aggressive in the second half and denied their shooters. And this time we played a full four quarters."
Next in the Lady Bengals' scoring column were Hailey Crawford with eight points, and four cagers at six points each -- Holman, Hilborn, Krantz and Ellsworth. Krantz grabbed a team-high six rebounds, and Hilborn dished five assists.
"Both teams played well the first half," Peterson said. "In the second half we clamped down on defense; we switched to man and made every play hard for them. And our shooters had confidence in themselves."
For Capital, Lindbo and Sullivan both reached double figures, with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Sydney Sheridan was next with six points. Sullivan speared a game-high nine boards, while Kacie Gross passed for three assists.
"I'm just very proud of the effort our team put out there tonight, they competed hard for the full 32 minutes," CHS coach Bill Pilgeram said. "If they keep doing that, good things will happen."
Pilgeram said he "felt good" about taking the lead in the second quarter, but then "a couple crazy plays" went HHS' way.
"That started their momentum on that long run from the middle of the second until the end of the third," he said. "And I will say, that's the best I've seen Helena shoot this year, and the best I've seen them play."