Had Wednesday night’s clash of state Nos. 1 and 2 been played as originally scheduled, Olivia Roberts likely would have gotten to enjoy senior night with her fellow Spartans.
Initially slated for last Thursday before a slew of blizzards and school closures, the rematch of last year’s State AA finals that yielded Sentinel its second straight championship was pushed back a week before the Spartans could pull off the coup of Capital.
Roberts, though, watched from the bench and missed her second straight game because of illness.
Without its leading scorer — Roberts averages 18.2 points per game — Sentinel still rallied together to earn the Western AA league title, 40-38.
“I think they rose up because the night before, I said, ‘Hey, Liv’s not playing so each one of us needs to go get two more rebounds,’ ” Sentinel coach Karen Deden said. “It’s bad that Liv’s sick, but it gave some people an opportunity to step up and do some things that maybe I hadn’t seen before.”
Still, when you pull out a player of that importance, it takes some time for the remaining pieces to find the right fit again.
“Once we found out Olivia was sick, I think it was almost a blessing in disguise that we played Helena High last night,” fellow senior guard Maddie Keast said of Sentinel’s 40-30 win over the Bengals from Tuesday, another reschedule from last week. “We had a game without Olivia underneath our belt.
“But we knew she was right there tonight with us and she was there last night with us in spirit and that means everything.”
The Spartans were still adjusting in the first half against Capital and the Bruins built a commanding 25-12 lead by halftime. Sentinel relies on its defensive press — headed at the front by Keast and Roberts — to generate the momentum for its offense. With one missing, the other followed suit.
Sentinel picked up just one steal in the first half, but came together on defense for 13 after halftime to mount a comeback.
“I think more than anything, your kids go into a game — and it’s not that they doubt themselves — they just wonder, should we be able to play with them?” Deden said. “And should we be able to play with them without our best player?”
The win means one of the great players in Sentinel girls’ basketball history has enjoyed her final game in the confines of the Spartans’ gym. Had the locals lost Wednesday on senior night, a celebration of the six soon-to-be graduates on the team, Sentinel would have hosted a play-in game to state a little later this week.
Instead, Sentinel automatically moves on to the State AA tournament next week in Billings as the West’s No. 1 seed.
Roberts would have loved to play Wednesday, but she’ll take a Spartans’ win, too, given the circumstances. The senior playmaker has a week now to get healthy and ready for the final run of her prep career.