Clock strikes midnight on Columbia girls basketball team’s Cinderella run

MERIDIAN – The clock struck midnight on the Columbia High School girls basketball team’s Cinderella run.

The Wildcats, who were making their first-ever state tournament appearance after 14 consecutive losing seasons, failed to make some more history Thursday, falling 44-36 to Sandpoint in the opening round of the Idaho 4A State Tournament at Mountain View High School.

Columbia (13-11) will play Mountain Home (16-8) at noon Friday in the consolation semifinal.

“I’m a little upset because we definitely didn’t come out to win,” Columbia senior guard Mia Nottingham said. “Well we did come out to win, we just got punched in the face first is what we call it.”

The Wildcats looked like a team making their first state tournament showing. They missed their first three shots and turned the ball over twice less than two minutes into the game. But they got away with it for a bit holding a 5-2 lead with a little more than a minute go in the opening quarter.

However, 10 turnovers and a 20% first-quarter field goal percentage, eventually caught up with them. Sandpoint finished the quarter on a 5-0 run. It was capped by a three-point play by Kaylee Banks, who got a layin off a steal and hit the ensuing free throw for a 7-5 lead at the end of one. The Bulldogs never trailed again.

The deficit for Columbia continued to grow in the second, getting as big as 11 at 23-12 off of a jumper by Banks with 32 ticks remaining. The Wildcats went just 6 of 20 (30%) and turned the ball over 15 times in the first half for a 23-14 disadvantage.

The Wildcats came out of the locker room a lot better. They drilled their first shot – an Ellie Robertson 3-pointer – to get back within six points right away. Columbia then cut the lead down to three at 31-28 on a layup by Sage Myers with 6:50 left in the game.

But the mistakes reared their ugly heads again.

Columbia turned the ball over on three straight possessions and missed two consecutive shots and free throws after closing the gap. And by the time it did finally manage to score another point on a Nottingham free throw three minutes later, Sandpoint was back up by eight at 37-29. The Wildcats didn’t get any closer than seven points the rest of the way.

“Our kids have never ever been in this type of situation,” Columbia coach Neal Robertson said about his team playing at state for the first time. “So definitely the pressure, the spotlight, the bright lights (got to us). I want to say that’s all of it, but at the end of the day, you still got to come out regardless.”

Banks tallied a game-high 16 points for the Bulldogs, who advanced to the semis for the second year in a row.

Nottingham recorded a team-high 13 points, while Myers added 10 for Columbia, which still could leave state with its first state trophy. And for a program that was picked seventh in its own conference, had won just 36 games ever and had never had a winning season before this one, it would still mean a whole heck of a lot.

“We just don’t want to be here,” Robertson said. “We felt like we earned the spot here to compete, so we don’t want to settle. “We want to go out tomorrow, win and then play for a third time.”

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