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Cats battle back to take third at state

| March 13, 2024 2:00 AM

The Columbia Falls boys battled back through the consolation bracket to take third at the state A basketball tournament in Butte Saturday afternoon, beating Butte Central 58-53 in a game that came down to the wire.

Junior Reggie Sapa came off the bench to score 16 points and was 6 of 9 from the line, including hitting some key free throws in the last minute or so to ice the game against the Maroons.

Jace Hill and Cody Schweikert had 10 apiece and Dayne Tu had 9 in the victory.

Butte shot out to a 15-9 lead in the first, but the Wildcats outscored them 20-8 in the second for a 29-27 advantage at the break.

With 3:20 left in the fourth, Central tied it at 50 apiece. Butte had chances to go ahead, but the shots didn’t drop. The Cats would score two more on free throws and then Schweikert was fouled with 1:14 left and hit both free throws to put the Cats up 54-50.

After a flurry of Butte shots, Sapa was fouled with 30 seconds left and hit both shots to put the Cats up 56-50.

The Maroons knocked down a three with 17 seconds left and on the ensuing possession fouled Sapa again.

He made one of two and Butte couldn’t hit a trey to cut the margin. Sapa was fouled yet again with 9 seconds left and hit one of two free throws to put the game away, 58-53 with three seconds left.

Sapa had a challenging season up until the last game. He suffered a broken leg early in the football season and wasn’t 100% during basketball season when he came back, not even close.

But in the last game “he looked like the old Reggie,” coach Chris Finberg said. Sapa just clicked and made plays when they were needed.

“It was pretty cool to see,” Finberg said..

Overall, the Cats had a great tourney, save for the first game against Lewistown in the opener, where they fell behind 19-2 in the first quarter and never recovered, losing 62-49.

“We played one bad quarter the whole state tourney,” Finberg said. Unfortunately for the Cats, it was the opening quarter of the tourney.

“We had two choices,” Finberg said. “Call it a season and roll over, or finish with three straight wins.”

They obviously chose the latter. 

“It speaks volumes about this group,” Finberg said.

In the consolation bracket they beat Glendive 67-61 Friday, then hammered Hamilton 71-48 Saturday morning. Hamilton had beaten the Cats by a slim margin in the Western A divisional tourney.

Dillon hammered Lewistown in the championship, 53-28.

It was the best finish at state for Columbia Falls since the Cats took third in 2015.

Finberg said everyone contributed in the effort. The Cats finish the year 17-9 overall, after starting 2-5. 

They lose eight seniors including Hill and Schweikert. Hill had an outstanding season, averaging 16 points a game and leading class A with 6.5 assists per game. Schweikert averaged 6.7 rebounds a game.

The future looks bright for the program; the junior varsity squad was undefeated and the froshmore team lost just one game.

    The team poses with the third-place trophy. (Photo by Greg Nelson/artwestimage.com)