After falling behind No. 1 Missoula Sentinel by 10 points early in the second quarter, Capital High's girls came nearly all the way back.
They nearly pulled off the upset, in fact, but were ultimately edged, 46-44.
The Western Conference showdown came down to the final seconds, when host Capital attempted a 3-point shot for the win that just missed. Then followed a put-back during a physical scramble for the tie at the buzzer that also didn't go in.
Sentinel left town with a still-perfect record, at 18-0 overall and 10-0 in conference play, while the Lady Bruins slip to 11-6, 5-4.
"Once again we showed the potential of this team when we were firing on all cylinders in the fourth quarter," said coach Bill Pilgeram, whose CHS hoopsters outscored Missoula 14-8 in the final frame. "We were frustrated by some early mistakes and we gave up a few runs, but Sentinel is a good team, and we just didn't contain their runs."
The initial quarter in the Bears' Den saw two lead changes and three ties, with Megan Lindbo's bucket giving Capital an 8-7 edge midway through the period. But then Sentinel went on a 17-6 run, taking an 18-9 lead after the first, and then upping it to 24-14.
The Lady Bruins were able to stop the bleeding temporarily with an 8-2 run of their own, closing the gap to 26-22 on a pair of Aryn Cummings free throws.
The Spartans took a 28-22 cushion into halftime, and led by as many as eight, 35-27. But the home team regrouped again, getting to within five, 35-30, on one of Lindbo's three bombs from 3-point land in the final seconds of the third. But Sentinel's Emma Blakely drained a trey of her own in the final second before the buzzer, and the visitors took a 38-30 advantage into the fourth.
Lindbo and Blakely wound up as the game's top two scorers, at 19 and 17 points, respectively.
The Spartans were up by seven, 44-37, with about three minutes left, when CHS made a furious push to the finish. After a Sydney Sheridan free throw, Sentinel's Jordyn Schweyen sank a pair from the charity stripe for a 46-38 edge. It turned out to be the deciding points, although they were also the visitors' last score.
Capital went on a 6-0 run, on two free throws by Shelby VanHemelryck, and a couple baskets by Lindbo and Taylor Sullivan. Sentinel put on a stall the last two minutes, and when the visitors missed the first end of a 1-and-1 at 17 seconds, the Lady Bruins called a timeout with 12 seconds remaining to set up their last play.
But the hosts came up just short.
The two clubs shot even from the field. Capital had the advantage at the free-throw line, netting 13 of 19, compared to Missoula's 6 of 9.
Following Lindbo and Blakely in the scoring column were Sullivan with 15 points, and Missoula's Schweyen and Lexi Deden, at nine counters each.
The Lady Bruins also outrebounded their counterparts, 31-26, paced by Sullivan's 12 boards. But CHS was hurt by turnovers, giving the ball up 16 times compared to Sentinel's 10, and the Spartans often made them pay off a speedy fast-break transition.
"Megan had a great offensive game; she was attacking well," Pilgeram said. "We're coming out of here tonight knowing that we took the best team in the state down to the wire, despite not playing our best game at times. So tomorrow we'll be back after it with a goal of playing a solid 32 minutes of basketball."
Those 32 minutes will tick off the clock Friday night, as Capital travels across town to take on Helena High in The Jungle. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.