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Brayden Koch soars for buzzer-beating tip-in as Helena Capital escapes Missoula Big Sky

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HELENA — It's hard to do much with 0.5 seconds. Unless of course, you are Brayden Koch.

With the score tied 55-55 between Helena Capital and Missoula Big Sky Saturday in the fourth quarter, that's all the time the Bruins had to work with.

Yet, it proved to be just enough thanks to a perfect screen, a perfect pass and a tip-in by Koch that took less than half-a-second and allowed Capital to escape with a 57-55 win in its Western AA opener. 

"As a coach, I'd love to say we have worked on that a bunch of times," Capital's Guy Almquist said. "That's the first time we have run that ever. It was spur of the moment. The kids did a great job of getting dialed in during the timeout and executed. It was a great screen, a great pass and a spectacular finish."

Koch finished with game with 16 points but missed two on the play before the game winner as his first attempt at winning the game rolled off the front of the rim. But a Big Sky player who rebounded the ball was called for traveling.

That gave Koch another shot and this time, he made it count.

"We got a good shot," he said of his first attempt. "It just didn't go in. Good thing there was time left on the clock."

Just enough to catch and shoot or get a tip in.

"I was thinking I just have to tip it," Koch said. "I thought about just trying to go up (for a dunk) but there wasn't enough time. It felt good though. It felt amazing." 

For Big Sky, a defining win proved elusive. 

"We were just trying to get one tip," Big Sky head coach Ryan Hansen said. "We knew if we could get a hand on the ball, the game was over (going to overtime) and, I mean, Brayden Koch is a special athlete and to deliver that thing perfectly, I don't know if it mattered if we were in front of him or not. He was elevating over everybody."

Special players do special things and so far for the Bruins (5-0) it has been a special season. 

"They are ranked No. 1 right now for a reason," Hansen said. 

But make no mistake, Big Sky wasn't intimidated and the Eagles went into the Bears Den and went toe-to-toe with a bona-fide state title contender.

"You have to give credit to Big Sky," Almquist said. "They enjoy playing us I feel like and they are a a competitive basketball team. We were lucky to get out of that with a win."

Two competitive teams led to a competitive game that featured 13 lead changes and 10 ties. Capital never led by more than three and Big Sky by no more than six. 

Louis Sanders and Caden Bateman both started strong for Big Sky as it built a five-point lead early. But a 3-pointer from Koch and another at the buzzer from Nick Michelotti put CHS in front 13-12 after one quarter.

In the second, the back-and-forth continued, but a 3-pointer right before half and a 5-0 spurt by Big Sky gave the Eagles a 29-27 lead at the intermission.

Bateman notched two of his 11 in the third quarter with a slam dunk that put the Eagles in front by two, but only for about 10 seconds as Koch answered with a trey on the ensuing possession.

The game continued that way into the fourth quarter and with Bateman fouled out, Shane Shepherd stepped to the forefront for Big Sky with two key buckets, one that tied the score with 22 seconds left.

A missed free throw would have put Big Sky in front, but Capital rebounded it and that led to Koch's near miss and that pesky 0.5 seconds that allowed the Bruins to ground Big Sky's upset bid.

"What we talked about is, yes this one should sting," Hansen said. "But as long as we are going in the right direction towards the end goal, we're OK."

Koch led all scorers with 16; Hayden Opitz also added 13 points and 11 rebounds for CHS. Sanders paced the Eagles with 12, while Bateman had 11 in limited action due to foul trouble. 

Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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