UPDATED: A blizzard warning forced the postponement of the Sentinel-Capital basketball games Thursday. The action will be made up on Monday, Mar. 3, with Sentinel’s girls still hosting Capital at 7 p.m. and the boys on the road in Helena also at 7 p.m.
Almost four weeks ago, Helena Capital knocked Missoula Sentinel off the path of the unbeatens by upsetting the No. 1 ranked Spartans 55-50 in Helena.
Neither team has lost since as last year’s State AA finalists have been hurtling toward another rematch this week. The now top-ranked Bruins come to Missoula to face the second-ranked Spartans for a 7 p.m. tip-off Thursday, a meeting of two 17-1 clubs with high state aspirations.
Sentinel coach Karen Deden doesn’t expect to change much in the way of her approach on the eve of the showdown. After all, the high-energy defensive game plan did work quite well for a half when Sentinel led 32-20 at the midpoint of the game.
“You know we were up by 12 there,” said Deden, now in her 14th year leading the varsity girls at her alma mater. “We just got tight in the third quarter after they hit some shots on us.”
After a 10-0 run in the second quarter handed the Spartans control, Sentinel managed just three points in the third and Capital and big post player Michaela Dowdy walked away with the win behind solid free throw shooting down the stretch.
Dowdy, a 6-foot-2 Carroll College commit who averages 18.9 points per game, finished with 21 points and shot 9 of 11 from the line. Her team was 19 of 24 overall on charity shots.
Defense in the key will again be a main point of emphasis for Sentinel, Deden said. That puts Sentinel’s own post, 6-1 senior Sam Harper, on the front lines.
“I still think she’s a great player,” Deden said of Dowdy. “We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to limit her touches, stop Kenzie Johnston and just play better defense than we did.”
Deden continued: “You’re getting down the stretch. Everybody’s playing their best basketball. You expect people to play well.”
Capital may still be without senior Alexa Welch. The guard injured her knee almost two weeks ago against Bozeman and has since missed three straight games.
The Spartans counter with their own standouts, led by seniors Olivia Roberts and Maddie Keast. A future Wyoming Cowgirl, Roberts scores 17.2 points per game and Keast it no slouch either at 13.7. Harper adds another 8.9 points a game and also leads Class AA in blocked shots (32).
Another important factor here is where the game is played. Sentinel has home court on its side this time. The Spartans haven’t lost at home in more than three years and bring a 32-game home winning streak into Thursday’s matchup.
But who was it that last came to Sentinel High School and managed to win? Well Helena Capital, of course, behind a 39-38 thriller back on Feb. 3, 2011.
“That whole team are great basketball players and we definitely respect them, but we’re looking forward to them,” said Keast, a future Lady Griz player. “They’re our biggest rival and we really want to take them down. And it’s senior night; we want to go out with a bang.”
Sentinel’s last win in the series came last March, a 49-40 victory in the State AA title game that secured the Spartans’ second straight championship and capped a 22-1 season.