The Wildkats basketball team will enter this weekend’s Divisional Tournament in Hamilton as a top seed after defeating Ronan and Browning to earn the Northwest A District title last week.
While winning the district title was a great moment for the Kats, head coach Cary Finberg says there is still more great basketball to come for his team this season.
“What this team has accomplished to this point has been pretty incredible. We are yet to lose in regulation. It’s not only what we have accomplished, it’s also how we have been doing it,” he said. “This has been a fun team to be around all year long and I just hope the community and the fans appreciate what they have been doing.”
Down one with under a minute to play in the Northwest A District championship game Saturday, the Wildkats got just what they needed from senior guard Ryley Kehr as her three-pointer bounced off the rim and through the hoop to put Columbia Falls up two with 53 seconds to play. Kehr would add another basket and a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds, scoring the last nine points of the game as the Wildkats defeated Browning 55-49 for the district title.
The final score represented the largest lead of the game for either side as the much-anticipated third meeting of the two teams this season lived up to expectations.
The game started with a back-and-forth battle in an opening quarter that saw six lead changes and five ties before Browning ended the frame up 23-20.
The Kats took a brief 26-25 lead on a pair of Trista Cowan free throws with 3:13 to play in the second quarter, but Columbia Falls would not lead again until the fourth quarter as Browning led 30-26 at the half.
The Kats cut the Browning lead to one with 2:38 to play in the third, but continued to trail the Lady Indians after three quarters, 40-37.
Hannah Schweikert cut the Browning lead to one with a pull-up jumper to start the fourth and later tied the game with a pair of free throws with 6:29 to play. Danaiya Polk knocked down a three on the Lady Indians’ next possession to give Browning back the lead but a pair of put-back baskets by Madysen Hoerner gave Columbia Falls its first lead of the second half at 46-45 with 4:32 to play. After a pair of baskets put Browning up 49-46 with just over three minutes to play, Kehr took over with nine straight points as the Kats picked up the win.
Kehr had a strong all-around game to lead the Kats with 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals while Cowan added 14, Josie Windauer and Schweikert each scored five, Hoerner had four points, Maddie Robison and LaKia Hill each scored three and Savvy Ellis had two points.
“A lot of times, people just look at the scoring. What’s been great about Kehr over the past month or so is that she has been filling the stat sheet in all categories pretty much every night,” Finberg said.
Kehr had another big night against Ronan in the district semi-final Friday, scoring 25 points and adding eight rebounds, five assists and three steals as the Kats downed the Maidens, 74-34.
The Kats’ biggest lead of the game came late in the fourth quarter on the most impactful shot of the night as Kimberly Peacock scored her first basket after being diagnosed with leukemia in July, 2017.
After several missed attempts earlier in the quarter, Peacock connected on a 10-foot jumper from the left side of the basket as the crowd erupted in support.
“It was really emotional for me. My teammates kept trying to get me the ball because they wanted it just as bad as I did,” Peacock said after the game. “I was thinking holy crap, holy crap, holy crap as it went in. Then I didn’t have much time to really think after that because I started crying and everyone was screaming. It was fun.”
Trista Cowan also came up big for the Kats in the win with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and four blocks while Windauer added 11 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. Schweikert scored seven in the win, Ellis has six points and Robison, Hill, Peacock and Lauren Falkner each scored two.
The Kats will open the Western A Divisional Tournament in Hamilton Thursday morning as they take on Corvallis at 9:30 a.m.
The Kats faced the Lady Blue Devils in Corvallis Jan. 26, picking up a 50-35 victory.