HELENA — At the end of a week that saw the top-three Western Conference girls basketball teams go head-to-head, Missoula Sentinel High handed Capital its first loss of the season 51-32 on Saturday.
The week concludes with the Spartans sitting atop the conference standings with a 9-1 overall record and 4-0 in the Western AA, after beating both Helena and Capital. CHS (9-1) stands in second place at 3-1, while Helena (8-2) is in third with a 2-2 conference mark.
The Bruins scored the first eight points of the game in Capital's gym, before Sentinel came roaring back to lead 12-8 after the first period.
From then on it was mostly Missoula, as the Spartans built a 27-16 lead at halftime, before outscoring the hosts 25-16 the rest of the way.
Lexi Deden, a 6-foot-1 sophomore post, led Sentinel with a game-high 15 points, followed by Emma Blakely, a 5-7 junior guard, with 12 points. The Schweyen sisters, Shelby and Jordyn — former Helena High great Brian Schweyen's daughters — netted six and five, respectively.
"Defense was the key," said Sentinel coach Karen Deden, when asked to summarize the win. "We came in knowing that Capital is a good team, and well-coached, and the kids went out and did what they were asked to do defensively.
"We wanted to stop Taylor Sullivan and Sydney Sheridan, but we also knew they have several good 3-point shooters."
Bruins coach Bill Pilgeram basically concurred, stating, "their defense took us out of our comfort. So next time that's we'll want to do," that being taking Sentinel's offense out of its comfort zone.
Sentinel held a 44-27 percent advantage in field goal accuracy, hitting 18 of 41 from the floor, compared to Capital's 10 of 37.
The Bruins' top scorers, at nine points apiece, were Megan Lindbo and Kacie Gross, and it was that tandem that combined to net the contest's first eight points.
Then Sentinell rang up 14 unanswered points, sparked by Shelby, Kylie Frohlich, Deden, Aiyana Bailey and Lauren Bingham.
A high, arching 3-pointer by Lindbo from the far right side stopped the momentum temporarily, making it 14-11. A Bruins free throw closed the gap to two, 14-12, but then the Spartans went on a 13-4 run to end the first half.
Two of the prettiest shots of the night belonged to Deden, on a blind, backwards lay-in underneath, and Shelby Schweyen's turnaround jumper from about 18 feet.
"I think the biggest thing for the offense was the breakout game of Emma Blakely," Deden said. "But everyone did what they needed to do offensively, and that extends off of the play of the defense."
And Capital was not without some highlights of its own. Sullivan and Sheridan, for example, both made gutsy drives down the middle of Broadway for lay-ups inside.
CHS outrebounded its counterparts 31-28, led Sullivan with 11 boards and Katie Culver's eight. Sentinel pirated 11 steals.
"We knew we were going to be tested this week, against two of the best teams in the state this week, and we went 1-and-1 (beating Helena on Tuesday)," Pilgeram said. "After looking at this game, we believe (Sentinel) is a team we can beat, if we eliminate our mistakes and execute properly. So we'll learn from this loss.
"This was not a must-win game, but we must improve every game. Sentinel is a very good team, and it came down to execution ... this is a game of baskets, and they made theirs."