HELENA -- In one of the more anticipated girls basketball games in the 44-year history of the crosstown series, Helena High will host Capital in The Jungle on Tuesday. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
The season’s initial meeting between the Bengals and Bruins is believed to be the first all-undefeated girls intra-city game since the rivalry began in 1973.
Helena and Capital own identical spotless records of 8-0 overall, and 2-0 inWestern Conference play. Last year’s state champion Bengals are sitting atop the 406mtsports.com Class AA rankings, while Capital is rated No. 3.
“It should be a great game, and our girls are excited to play in a tournament-like atmosphere,” said fifth-year HHS coach Eric Peterson, whose regular season crosstown record sits at 4-4. “We would love to see the community come out and support two great girls teams from Helena.”
Twelfth-year Capital coach Bill Pilgeram, who owns a 14-8 regular-season record versus the Bengals, said “it should be a great high school basketball game and the people will see two championship-worthy basketball teams” go head to head.
“I expect an awesome environment at the game, and the team that’s able to play their game within the emotions of the game will probably end up on top,” Pilgeram said.
Peterson and Pilgeram are both former Carroll College hoops standouts.
The host Bengals are out of the gate to their best start in program history, eclipsing several 7-1 openings (including the last two seasons) from years gone by. They are also riding a 14-game winning streak, dating back to last year.
Capital’s opening equals at least two previous unbeaten team starts, when the brown-and-gold went 12-0 at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, and 8-0 to start 2013-14.
HHS swept the Bruins last year, 51-41 and 55-35.
Helena is presently outscoring its opposition by an average 54.2-31.0, for a difference of 23.2 points a game.
Post Jamie Pickens, a 6-foot-2 HHS junior, has achieved double-doubles in all eight games. She leads the state in rebounding with 14.7 boards per game, and is No. 2 in scoring, averaging 16.6 points. She is also fourth with 16 blocked shots, No. 6 at 27 free throws made, and 10th in field goals from 3-point land with eight.
Kamden Hilborn, a 5-7 senior guard, is scoring 11.1 ppg, and is No. 1 in Class AA with 5.6 assists per game and 40 steals. She is tied with Pickens for 10th in 3-pointers.
Rounding out HHS’ top scorers are McKayala Kloker at 5.1 ppg, Paige Aasved with a 5.0 ppg and Abby Marcille at 4.9 ppg. Marcille is also grabbing 3.1 rebounds a game.
“I think the Bengals’ strengths lie in their defense and transition opportunities,” Pilgeram said. “They’re well-coached at both ends of the floor and can score points in bunches. Both teams are 1-2 in defense in the state, so a key is who can execute against the half-court defenses while also getting some points in transition.
“Obviously, Pickens and Hilborn are returning all-state contributors capable of scoring big points and we need to hold both of them in check.”
Peterson related that in order for Helena High to be successful, they can’t let the moment get too big for Capital.
“Also, we need to play the style of defense that we’ve been successful with so far this season, and to be patient on offense, passing up good shots for great shots,” the Bengal skipper said.
Capital holds an 18.1-point scoring advantage over its counterparts, averaging 49.6-31.5 ppg.
Senior Taylor Sullivan currently leads the Bru-crew is scoring and rebounding (tie), at 11.0 points and 6.4 rebounds. The 6-3 post is No. 2 in the state with a .595 field goal percentage (33-for-57), and 21 blocked shots.
Next is 5-8 junior guard Sydney Sheridan at 10.1 ppg. She’s fourth in the AA at 3.1 assists per game, and No. 5 with 22 steals. Sheridan and Ayanna Syvrud lead the team from beyond the 3-point stripe, at six treys each.
The rest of CHS’ top scorers are Kacie Gross at 7.4 points, Megan Lindbo with a 5.2 ppg, and Katie Culver’s 4.4 points average. Culver shares the rebounds lead with Sullivan with 6.4 rpg.
“Capital is an experienced team this year returning all five starters from a year ago,” noted Peterson, adding “they’re leading the AA in defense and field goal percentage,” so they have good balance on either end of the court.
“Our keys to success lie in playing great defense and rebounding at one end while using our balance and execution on offense to get great shots every possession,” Pilgeram said. “If we’re able to hold that Pickens-Hilborn duo down, then depth will play a significant role in the game.”