Cougar girls win 4B title
The old cliche in sports is that it’s tough to beat a team three times. The Shepherd Fillies and Red Lodge Rams found that out at the 4B district tournament in Worden last weekend. Both teams swept the Columbus Cougar girls in the regular season. But when it mattered, the Cougars found a way to win.
Not that it was easy. Or pretty. Both games were grinding, low scoring, defensive struggles. A style of basketball known affectionately around Columbus as “Barta Ball”, and a style that has been used to great effect many, many times by veteran coach Paul Barta.
After a 48-20 win over Joliet in the opening round, Columbus met Shepherd in Thursday’s semifinals. Junior Tana House supplied the early offense, draining two first quarter jumpers and converting a second quarter fast break layup and free throw as the Cougars forged a 16-8 halftime lead. A tweak to the Cougar ‘monster’ zone, whereby seniors Courtney Martinez and Kyla Rouane bracketed 6’3” Fillie center Janie McRae, frustrated the Fillies and they seemed reluctant to toss up open three-pointers.
Rouane’s sweet crossover around McRae built a 20-12 lead in the middle of the 3rd, but Shepherd soon cut the lead to 22-18. Trouble loomed as Martinez and Rouane each picked up their fourth fouls late in the 3rd, forcing 5’6” defensive-specialist Hailey Campbell to front McRae, despite giving up nine inches. Enter little-used junior Kenedy Wiggs who injected a surge of much needed energy. Wiggs promptly scored on a fast-break and a few minutes at the start of the 4th quarter always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, deflecting Fillie passes or keeping a Cougar possession alive with a hustle rebound. Madi Sindelar stuck a jumper, and Rachel Ault’s three-point play led to a 29-20 Cougar lead early in the 4th.
Shepherd soon cut it to 29-26 but Ault scored on a give-and-go from Martinez then hit both ends of a one-and-one for a 33-28 lead with 90-seconds left.
The final minute was a blur of missed Cougar free throws – the girls left the door open by missing their final seven - and hurried Filly shots and it wasn’t until McRae’s final shot bounced off the rim with two seconds left that the 33-31 win was secured.
In Saturday’s championship game, Columbus fell behind 11-5 early, and it was Sindelar that provided the early spark. The senior canned two second quarter jumpers, and another in the third. Ault’s two free throws gave the Cougars their first lead at 17-16, but the Rams soon restored their lead to 21-17. Junior Carli Dyba drained a 12-footer, and Martinez cleaned the offensive glass twice, and the Cougars trailed by only a point entering the fourth.
Red Lodge scored the first two points of the 4th quarter but it would be their final points of the game. Ault soon restored the Cougar lead at 28-27 with a smooth no-look bounce pass to House and a pair of free throws. The savvy senior did not score a single field goal in the game, but shot sixteen free throws on the night, making ten. It was Martinez, who had missed a crucial front end with three minutes left, that sealed the championship with four consecutive free throws down the stretch to secure the 33-27 win.
The title is the Columbus girls first 4B championship since the 2008 season. The Cougars (15-6), who have won twelve of their last thirteen games, will begin Southern B divisional play March 5 against Jefferson (10-10) in Billings.
Joliet 9 5 2 4 — 20
Columbus 15 7 13 13 — 48
J: Kaylee Rowlison 3, Tru Roginske 2, Kinna Olson 8, Morgan Harris 2, Madison Unger 3, Annie Cooke 2.
C: Tana House 2, Kyla Rouane 9, Hailey Campbell 6, Madi Sindelar 2, Tyona Robbins 2, Rachael Ault 13, Courtney Martinez 8, Kenedy Wiggs 6.
Columbus 6 10 8 9 — 33
Shepherd 6 2 10 13 — 31
C: House 7, Rouane 4, Wiggs 2, Sindelar 2, Ault 16, Martinez 2.
S: Ryle McCartney 2, Taylor Buyse 4, Maddie Hinkle 8 Emily Millard 5, Janie McRae 12
Columbus 5 6 13 9 — 33
Red Lodge 7 7 11 2 — 27
C: House 2, Rouane 3, Sindelar 6, Dyba 4, Ault 10, Martinez 8.
RL: Aspen Allen 3, Jill Purcell 2, Stephanie Kreamer 4, Natalie Hilderman 16, Kendell Prather 2.