HAMILTON — The girls from Columbia Falls, Libby, Browning and Butte Central all fought off challenges in the first round of the Western A girls basketball divisional tournament. The Wildkats, Loggers, Indians and Maroons now move into Friday’s semifinals.
The day started with a good start from the Northwest A champs. Columbia Falls built a 32-21 halftime lead on Corvallis. Corvallis was the Southwest A regular-season champ but fell to this matchup by taking fourth place at their district tournament last week. The Blue Devils showed some of their regular-season success with a second-half comeback. The Blue Devils cut the lead to seven entering the fourth quarter, but Columbia Falls held off the charge to win 65-57.
Ryley Kehr dominated for the Wildkats, totaling 29 points and nine rebounds. Lainie Albright scored 25 for Corvallis. Calla Haldorson added 18.
The second game in Hamilton featured much less scoring, but much more drama. Northwest A No. 3-seed Libby and Southwest A No. 2-seed Hamilton both shot about 30 percent from the field in a slow-paced first-round clash. The two were tied 4-4 after one quarter, and Libby led 13-9 at halftime.
Hamilton finally found some offense in the second half. The Broncs had built a 27-19 lead near the mid-point of the fourth quarter, but Libby came back with the final eight points in regulation to tie the game. The Loggers missed a final shot to win in regulation, but their momentum carried over to overtime. Libby out-scored the Broncs 7-2 in the extra period to win 34-29.
Libby’s Alli Collins led all scorers with 13 points. Hamilton’s Lauren Ryter was the only other player in double figures with 11 points.
In the afternoon session, the Browning and Frenchtown girls battled neck-and-neck through most of the contest. The No. 2 seed from the Northwest A and No. 3 seed from the Southwest A were tied 8-8 after one quarter. Browning led by one at halftime, 17-16. Frenchtown led 25-23 after three quarters, but the Indians took control when it mattered most. Browning out-scored Frenchtown 16-4 over the final eight minutes to grab the win, 39-29.
Taylor Jordan scored 12 points and Ca’slin Kipp added 10 for the Indians. Frenchtown’s Kiya Shelton led all scorers with 13 points, including all eight points for the Broncs in the first quarter.
The final girls game of the first day was surely the craziest. Northwest A No. 4-seed Ronan started red hot against Southwest A tournament champ Butte Central. The Maidens built a 21-6 lead by the end of the first quarter, but by halftime the advantage was gone. Butte Central scored 26 points in the second quarter to take a 32-31 lead. Tricia Joyce led the way with 18 points in the first half, most from behind the arc.
The game remained close for the rest of the way. The Maroons held the lead for most of the second half, but the Maidens did crawl within a single point in the final minutes. Butte Central hung on to win, 57-54.
Joyce finished with 23 points, making 7 of 9 from behind the 3-point line. Amira Bolton added 12 points for the Maroons. Jaylea Lunceford led a balanced Ronan attack with 15 points. Tiana Ulutoa scored 12. Regan Clairmont added 11.
Columbia Falls and Libby will collide for a third time this season in the first semifinal game at 3:30 p.m. Friday. The Wildkats won both regular-season meetings. Then Browning and Butte Central square off at 5 p.m.
In loser-out games Friday morning, Hamilton will play Corvallis at 9:30 a.m. Frenchtown takes on Ronan at 11 a.m.