HELENA — Early in the opening quarter of the Western Conference boys basketball game between Helena High and Missoula Sentinel, Alex Johnson's basket for the Bengals tied the score at four-all.
Then the conference-leading Spartans answered right back on a bucket by Alex Germer, and after that it was pretty much all Sentinel as the visitors rolled to a 56-37 victory on Harper's Court. However, Helena's defense did manage to contain Sentinel's leading scorer.
The two teams own nearly opposite records as Missoula improves to 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the Western AA, while HHS slips to 2-8, 0-4.
"I felt our guys kept their poise really when (Helena coach) Brandon (Day) tried to take Sam Beighle out of the game," Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said. "They knew he was our strength, and Helena did a good job holding him to a season-low 11 points. But we've emphasized when that happens, it's up to the rest of the team to step up and pick up the slack. And we still won by 19, so the other guys were able to do that."
Gaige DeShazer, a 5-foot-9 senior guard for the Spartans, poured in a game-high 17 points, including three 3-point field goals. Germer was next after Beigle with nine points.
Alex's brother Nate Germer tallied the first bucket on the night, after a steal and assist from Beighle.
The home team's first points came on a defensive rebound by Dawson Tedesco, who then dribbled the entire length of the floor for a lay-up to knot the score at 2s.
Sentinel took an 8-4 lead after the first period, on another basket by Alex Germer. The Spartans proceeded to build a 21-13 halftime lead with their biggest cushion of the second stanza being nine points at 17-8.
The Bengals closed to within six temporarily, 17-11, on long shot from 3-point land by Connor Murgel. Murgel shared HHS' scoring honors of nine points - draining two more treys in the second half - with Alex Johnson.
After the intermission, the Garden City crew outscored the Bengals 13-8 in the third period, and 20-16 in the final frame to win going away.
Although Helena did show some fire in the fourth, on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Johnson, a 3-pointer by Hayden Ferguson and a nice bucket by Josiah Shelley. Tedesco was next in the scoring column with four points.
"Our defense did a great job, we switched back-and-forth between zone and man in the first half, before going to straight zone in the second half," Jagelski said. "We marked Connor Murgel because he's a great 3-point shooter, and we were able to contain him to nine points."
Holden Sampson led Helena with four rebounds, while Tedesco pilfered three steals. The Bengals shot just 30 percent from the floor, going 15-for-50.
"We are really struggling offensively, and it's going to be tough to win until we figure thing out," Day said. "At least on defense we were able to hold Beighle down. So we'll just keep working hard, like we always do, and hopefully it will pay off in the end."