The Wildkats had a tough outing in their opening game of the Class A state basketball tournament Thursday, committing 30 turnovers in a 58-29 loss to the Laurel Locomotives.
The Locomotives set the tone early, knocking down their first six three-point attempts as Laurel scored the first 21 points of the contest.
Laurel would not hit another three in the contest, but the deficit was too much to overcome for the Wildkats as Columbia Falls never came closer than 19.
A tenacious man-to-man defense by the Locomotives kept the Kats off balance throughout the contest, forcing eight Columbia Falls turnovers in the opening period as the Kats didn’t get on the scoreboard until Trista Cowan made a shot with under two minutes to play. Laurel answered with a quick basket and the Locomotives led 23-2 after one quarter of play.
The turnovers continued to pile up for Columbia Falls in the second frame, but the Wildkats matched Laurel nearly point for point in the quarter and trailed 33-11 at the half.
Ryley Kehr opened the third with a free throw for the Kats before Cowan added two baskets and Josie Windauer put in a missed shot to cut the Laurel lead to 37-18 midway through the frame. Columbia Falls outscored Laurel 11-9 in the third, but continued to trail by 20 heading into the fourth quarter, 42-22.
The Kats turned the ball over eight more times in the fourth quarter as the Laurel continued to add to its lead with the Locomotives pulling away to win by 28.
Cowan was the leading scorer for the Kats in the loss with eight points and added a game-high seven rebounds as Columbia Falls won the rebounding battle, 27-18.
Windauer finished with seven points and five rebounds, Kehr had five points and four rebounds, Maddie Robison had four points, Savvy Ellis and Madysen Hoerner each scored two and Hannah Schweikert had one point.
Mya Hansen led Laurel with 12 points while Maeson Cotter added nine.
With the loss, the Wildkats will take on the loser of Havre and Libby at 9 a.m. Friday.