HELENA — Winning big games is becoming old hat for Helena Capital this season and the formula always seems to be the same: Great defense and clutch 3-point shooting from Mara McGinley.
For the third time in her last four games, McGinley, the Capital guard, made at least four 3-pointers, including three in the second half as the top-ranked Bruins won a battle of undefeated teams, 53-42 over Missoula Sentinel Saturday in Helena.
It was the second straight Saturday Capital has beaten an unbeaten from Missoula, as the Bruins knocked off Hellgate last weekend, 51-45, allowing them to ascend to the top spot in this week's 406mtsports.com rankings.
"I think anytime you beat the only other remaining undefeated, it's a big confidence builder," Capital head coach Katie Garcin-Forba said. "More than anything in this game, we got down, they had a lot of momentum going their way and we responded and I told the girls after, that's what makes me most proud of this group. They don't quit."
At times Saturday, especially in the early going, things certainly weren't going the way of the Bruins. Seven first-half turnovers led directly to nine points for Sentinel as the Spartans grabbed a 16-11 lead after one.
In the second quarter, Capital struggled to defend inside, despite defense being known as a strength. Lexi Deden scored nine in the first half, while Jayden Salisbury added seven and Challis Westwater scored six as the Spartans built a 30-23 lead at intermission.
"I didn't think we did a great job with our team defense in the first half," Garcin-Forba said. "But we made some adjustments. We were a little more physical and then our offense started to get going a little bit more."
Mashayla O'Malley helped spark the offense at the start of the second half, with four quick points, yet it was a McGinley three, her third of the game, off the glass, that finally put Capital in front, 32-30.
"I was surprised about that," McGinley said. "I usually don't bank shots, so it was kind of fun."
"Some of the shots she makes, I just turn to my coaches and say, 'How?'" Garbin-Forba added. "She does that at practice everyday, so when she makes the crazy ones we expect it. You just always know she is going to get one to drop and it always seems to be at a big moment."
It was the beginning of a fun stretch for the Bruins, who got a 3-ball from Jaymee Sheridan minutes later to extend the lead to 38-34 heading to the fourth, following a 15-4 run.
The run continued in the fourth thanks to McGinley, who hit two shots from beyond the arc in short order, putting Capital up nine and effectively ending any hopes Sentinel had of pulling an upset.
"I got some really good passes from my teammates and I was in rhythm," McGinley said. "We were a little shaky right off the bat on the offensive end and then we relaxed and we were able to execute."
Capital was 4-of-10 in the second half from deep, with McGinley connecting three times on her way to a game-high 17 points. O'Malley also reached double figures with 12 and Paige Bartsch contributed in a big way with seven points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Deden was the top scorer for Sentinel with 11 points. Salisbury and Westwater each had 10.
Capital (8-0) has defeated three top-5 teams in Billings West, Hellgate and Sentinel this season, but will now turn its attention to three-time defending champion, Helena High (4-4), a team that beat the Bruins three times last season.
"These girls have a lot of confidence," Garcin-Forba said. "And one of their goals has been to beat Helena High. They said that from the start and these close games have given them experiences to know how to win in those situations. Crosstown is always different but they are excited for it."
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