The rivalry never disappoints.
Yet again, the Columbia Falls Wildcats and Whitefish Bulldogs put on a show in front of a raucous crowd in the second round of the Northwestern A boys divisional basketball tournament at Glacier High School on Friday afternoon. Junior Kyle Howell scored four points in the last 28.8 seconds to lead the Wildcats to a 58-53 victory over Whitefish.
Whitefish, the top seed in the tourney, led after each quarter, including a 42-39 advantage at the end of the third. The loss ended a 12-game winning streak for the Bulldogs.
Howell finished with 10 points. Senior Grant Getts led the fourth-seeded Wildcats with 16, including five straight in a crucial one-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter. With the Wildcats down 49-47, Getts hit a short jump shot to tie the game up with just less than 3:30 left to play. Forty-five seconds later, he hit another hoop and drew a foul, hitting the free throw to put Columbia Falls up 52-49.
Whitefish’s senior guard Aaron Tkaychk, playing through a hip stinger suffered late in the third quarter, answered Getts with a baseline three-pointer the next time down the court, tying the game up again at 52. For the game, Tkachyk hit five three-pointers en route to a game-high 17 points.
Columbia Falls senior point guard Mackey Nolan hit two free throws with 2:13 remaining to give the Wildcats a 54-52 lead. Whitefish’s Josh Backer had a chance to tie the game up with 1:46 left, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Wildcats then played keep-away as the clock ticked under one minute. Whitefish tried to foul but was kept on the run by Columbia Falls’ superb team passing. The Bulldogs weren’t able to foul until 28.8 seconds. Then Howell hit two free throws to put the Cats up 56-52.
After David FauntLeRoy hit one of two free throws for Whitefish, the Bulldogs tried to foul after the ball was inbounded but again couldn’t catch the shifty Wildcats. Nolan found a wide-open Howell streaking down the sideline. Howell hit a layup to seal the game at 58-53.
From the opening tip until the final seconds, the game was physical and fast. There were multiple offensive fouls called in the first half. Several collisions led to players walking gingerly off the court, but there were no game-ending injuries.
Throughout the game, the packed gym was so loud that coaches had a difficult time calling timeouts. The referees simply couldn’t hear.
At last year’s divisional tournament, Whitefish beat Columbia Falls 68-66 in a challenge game to earn a berth to the state tournament.
Columbia Falls advances to the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday night. The Wildcats will play the winner of Libby and Polson, who play today at 4 p.m. Whitefish will play No. 6 Bigfork at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning in a loser-out game at Glacier High School.
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