GREAT FALLS — Columbia Falls lives to fight another day at the Class A state girls basketball tournament, at the expense of the Libby Loggers.
The Wildkats outlasted Libby with a 48-33 victory in loser-out action on Friday morning at Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Libby finished the season with a 17-11 record and made its first trip to the state tournament since 2011.
“Overall, it was a pretty gutty performance. It wasn’t our best performance, but it was pretty gutty,” Loggers coach Wally Winslow said.
Libby had a brutal start on the offensive end. The Loggers got the ball into the paint, but missed numerous looks from close-range, and the Wildkats (23-2) forced 13 turnovers in the first half. Libby finished the game with 24 turnovers.
The Loggers were 4 of 19 from the field in the opening two quarters, including 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. Jayden Winslow had seven of the Loggers’ nine first-half points.
“First half was rough. We had some pretty good looks, but the ball didn’t go in the hole. And unfortunately, that’s basketball,” Wally Winslow said.
“And against a team like Columbia Falls you don’t get a lot of good opportunities so you need to take advantage of the ones that you get.”
Wildkats coach Cary Finberg applauded his defense’s effort, especially after giving up 23 points in the first quarter in Thursday’s 58-29 first-round defeat to Laurel.
“I thought defensively we were much better … we came ready to go. We did a good job of eliminating [Jayden] Winslow and [Alli] Collins on open looks,” Finberg said.
The Wildkats also won the rebound battle, hauling in 38 to Libby’s 27. That included 18 offensive boards.
Columbia Falls had problems scoring against Libby’s aggressive half-court defense, going 9 of 26 from the field in the first half. But Hannah Schweikert came to the rescue with three triples, including a corner 3 at the first-quarter buzzer and a clutch trey with 20 seconds to go in the half that gave the Wildkats a 22-9 halftime advantage.
“That was big for us, big for her. She’s more than capable of doing that, so that was good to see,” Finberg said.
Trista Cowan opened the second half with a nifty, left-handed hook shot to give the Wildkats a 15-point lead. But the Loggers came storming back with a 13-6 run that included two 3s from Collins and a triple from Jayden Winslow.
“I was pleased with their turnaround in the second half. We got some shots to go down and competed pretty well … They’re a pretty resilient group and they’ve been that way all year long,” Wally Winslow said.
With less than a minute to go in the third and the score 30-22, Jayden Winslow left a 3-pointer short that would have cut the deficit to five. The Wildkats answered with an old-fashioned 3-pointer from Cowan in transition to make it 33-22 going into the fourth.
The Loggers’ Sammee Bradeen buried a deep triple to open the fourth quarter, but Ryley Kehr quickly answered with a 3-pointer on the other end. That jump-started a 10-0 Columbia Falls run — seven of those points from Cowan — that put the Wildkats in firm control of the game.
“She’s been steady for us all year long,” Finberg said of Cowan, “so it was good to see her put together a nice game.”
The Wildkats also helped themselves from the charity stripe, going 7 of 9 in the second half. Libby went 4 of 7 and did not reach the free-throw line in the first half.
“When you’ve got a team trying to crawl back into it, if you can hit some free throws there … I thought that was key as well,” Finberg said.
Cowan led the Wildkats in scoring and rebounding, tallying 18 points and hauling in nine boards. Kehr had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Schweikert finished with nine points.
Kehr and Schweikert both had three of the team’s 13 steals.
Jayden Winslow paced the Loggers with 12 points and McKenzie Proffitt added eight while grabbing eight boards.
“We’re in the game if we make a few shots and do a few things differently. So I’m not going to fault their effort. I think the girls had their hearts in the right place, but sometimes the ball doesn’t go in,” Wally Winslow said.
“I’m super proud of the girls,” he added. “They had a great run, a great season … I’m exceptionally proud not only of their basketball talents and abilities and performances, but just the kind of kids they are. They’re great kids who are going to do great things.”
The Wildkats play a third consecutive 9 a.m. contest today, matching up with Billings Central for a spot in the consolation final at 3:30 p.m. Billings Central lost to Hardin 44-43 in semifinal play Friday night.
“It’s one of our goals to get back to Saturday night and we’re one game away from doing that … if we play like we’re capable, we’re more than capable of winning that game,” Finberg said.
Libby 5 4 13 11 — 33
Columbia Falls 12 10 11 15 — 48
LIBBY — Alli Collins 6, Jayden Winslow 12, Sammee Bradeen 3, McKenzie Proffitt 8, Olivia Gilliam-Smith 2, Taylor Holm 2.
COLUMBIA FALLS — Maddie Robison 2, Savannah Ellis 2, Josie Windauer 2, Hannah Schweikert 9, Ryley Kehr 13, Madysen Hoerner 2, Trista Cowan 18.