Flathead was not an easy mark this time for the Bruins.
Helena Capital had its hands full until the final minutes while posting a hard-fought 62-51 victory over Flathead in first-round play Thursday at the Western AA Divisional boys basketball tournament at Glacier High School.
Capital, the third seed, never trailed and also never could shake free from a determined sixth-seeded Braves outfit that battled to the very end.
“That team (Capital) has had our number both times this season,” Flathead coach Ross Gustafson said.
“I felt we competed tough and played well. A couple shots here, couple shots there, maybe a different outcome.”
Capital held a 13-6 lead after eight minutes of action and took a 24-18 advantage to the locker room at the half.
The Bruins gained a little separation to start the third quarter on six straight points by 6-foot-5 junior Shane Haller in the paint after a layup by Flathead senior guard Brett Thompson, who finished with a game-high 20 points, and a nice baseline move by Tannen Beyl had cut the Braves’ deficit to four.
Flathead slipped within eight near the midway point of the fourth quarter on a basket by Ethan Vandenbosch, but the Braves could never get closer.
The outcome was a far cry from Capital’s earlier victories over the Braves — 74-51 and 69-36.
This game was vastly different from the previous two in that this one was all about effort.
“We talked about that this week and about mental focus,” Gustafson said.
“About real hustle versus false hustle. You have to give yourself a chance and we did.”
Thompson held his own inside against a physical and talented Capital duo as did Flathead teammate Gabe Adams, who finished with 13 points.
“I thought Gabe Adams early on played very well,” Gustafson said.
“He scored a couple of baskets when we were struggling. He gave us a lift.”
Thompson had a pair of traditional 3-point plays early in the fourth quarter to keep the pressure on Capital.
Off the bench, Vandenbosch provided some key points inside. He finished with nine.
Flathead outrebounded Capital 21-18. Vandenbosch and Thompson led Flathead in that category with four each.
Kueber had six rebounds for Capital.
Kueber also led the Bruins in scoring with 12 points. Bridger Grovom and Brady Martin were next with 11 each and Haller added 10.
Flathead was 20 of 42 shooting from the field, six of 11 from 3-point range.
Capital was 22 of 45 but only hit four of 13 shots from behind the arc.
Flathead totaled 14 turnovers to eight for Capital.
Flathead (5-14) drops into loser-out play today at 12:30 p.m. versus Missoula Big Sky while Capital (11-8) moves on to semifinal action tonight at 8 to face Missoula Sentinel.
“If we play with the same effort and focus we did against Capital the next two games, we can punch our ticket to state,” Gustafson said.
The top four teams from this divisional, which ends Saturday, advance to state in Butte March 7-9.
Flathead 6 12 12 21 — 51
Helena Capital 13 11 18 20 — 62
FLATHEAD — Tannen Beyl 2, Seth Moon 2, Blake Counts 2, Brett Thompson 20, Gabe Adams 13, Cooper Smith 3, Ethan Vandenbosch 9.
HELENA CAPITAL — Parker Johnston 5, Brady Martin 11, Bridger Grovom 11, Trevor Swanson 5, Shane Haller 10, Cade Kidder 8, Garrett Kueber 12.
Missoula Sentinel 51,
Missoula Big Sky 34
Missoula Sentinel outscored Missoula Big Sky 33-2 in the middle two quarters en route to the first-round victory.
Sentinel, the second seed, led 7-4, 25-16 and 40-26 after the first three quarter stops.
Sentinel was 18 of 34 shooting from the field to 11 of 33 for Big Sky.
Sentinel held a 24-13 rebounding edge.
Alex Germer led Sentinel’s scorers with 13 points.
Daniel Morin of seventh-seed Big Sky led all scorers with 14 points.
Sentinel (14-5) advances to semifinal action today at 8 p.m. versus Helena Capital.
Big Sky (3-16) has a loser-out game today at 12:30 p.m. versus Flathead.
Missoula Big Sky 4 12 10 8 — 34
Missoula Sentinel 7 18 15 11 — 51
MISSOULA BIG SKY — Camdyn LaRance 5, Daniel Morin 14, Brady Tabish 2, Andrew Gardanier 5, Gabe Bailey 3, McKee Muralt 4, Dylan Sandry 1.
MISSOULA SENTINEL — Tony Frohlich-Fair 7, Scott Malikie 6, Alex Germer 13, Hayden Kolb 6, Brock Field 5, Bryan Mikulski 5, Jack Colyer 3, Neil Daily 6.