The Wildkats picked up another pair of wins last week as they survived a close game at home against Bigfork Thursday before opening conference play with a 73-40 victory in Ronan Friday.
Four Wildkats scored in double figures at home Thursday as Columbia Falls downed Bigfork in the annual Hall of Fame Game, 68-63.
Ryley Kehr led the Wildkat attack with 20 points while Hannah Gedlaman added 13 and Dani Douglas and Trista Cowan each scored 12.
With both teams employing tough, pressure defense, turnovers plagued both sides throughout the contest. Despite turning the ball over 32 times, the Wildkats were able to find a way to get the victory.
“It was a crazy game as far as pace goes,” Wildkat head coach Cary Finberg said. “We had talked about turnovers being something that we needed to improve on and we needed to show more poise and control. But, finding a way to win is a good thing. We had not seen ball pressure like that this season, so facing it will only help us down the road.”
Savvy Ellis scored two of the first three Columbia Falls baskets in the opening quarter as the Kats jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but the Valkyries used an 8-2 run to tie the game midway through the quarter. The Wildkats answered with a 10-0 run of their own and took an 18-10 lead after one quarter of action.
A pair of Trista Cowan free throws in the opening stages of the second quarter gave the Kats what would be their largest lead of the night at 20-10, but the Valkyries scored 16 of the game’s next 20 points to take a 26-24 lead over the Wildkats at the half.
Columbia Falls wasted no time regaining the lead, as Kehr opened the third quarter with a three to put the Kats up 27-26 before the team used a 10-2 run to go up 37-28.
The Valkyries cut the Wildkat lead to 40-38 with 1:15 to play in the third quarter, but LaKia Hill, Gedlaman and Kehr forced Bigfork turnovers and scored three baskets in just 15 seconds to push the Columbia Falls lead back to eight. Bigfork added a basket in the closing seconds of the frame and the Kats led 46-40 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Kats pushed the lead as high as 10 again in the fourth quarter, but the Valkyries refused to throw in the towel.
A technical foul on Finberg helped Bigfork cut into the lead with 3:27 to play before a pair of free throws brought the Valkyries within three, 56-53.
The Kats pushed the lead back to eight, but Bigfork made one last push.
A driving layup cut the Wildkat lead to just 2 with 1:00 to play, but a basket by Gedlaman on a nice pass from Kehr and a pair of Cowan free throws put Columbia Falls up 66-60 with 15.8 seconds to play. The Valkyries knocked down a three with six seconds remaining, but could come no closer as a pair of Douglas free throws put the finishing touches on a 68-63 Wildkat victory.
“It was a rough game, but we got the win,” Finberg said. “They were doubling the ball and, if we took care of it, we were getting layups. If we didn’t, they were getting turnovers. We found a way to get the win, but that is not a habit we want to get into as we go into conference play.”
The Kats opened conference play with a lopsided win Friday as they downed the Maidens in Ronan, 73-40.
With four players in double figures once again, the Wildkats jumped ahead of Ronan 18-10 after one quarter before building a 32-17 halftime lead. Columbia Falls added 22 more in the third and 19 in the fourth en route to the blowout win.
“We played very well and took care of the ball. We shot well and it was good to end on a positive note heading into the holiday break,” Finberg said about the win.
Gedlaman led the Kats in scoring with 21 points and added seven rebounds while Douglas scored 18 (including hitting 4-6 from three) and added eight assists and six steals. Kehr and Cowan each scored 11, Ellis had nine points and Hill had three.
The Kats will be back in action Jan. 5 as they host Libby before also hosting Polson Jan. 6.