Pirates come oh-so-close to upsetting second-ranked Wildcats
POLSON — They had 'em. The Polson Pirates had the top-ranked Columbia Falls Wildcats right where they wanted them.
But a couple of costly turnovers and a couple of missed scoring opportunities down the stretch changed all that.
Polson had the defending state champs and current number two team in Class A on the ropes in their own gym last Friday night. The Pirates had a one-point lead with a minute left and had the ball, but couldn't score and couldn't stop the Wildcats from pulling out a 50-48 win.
Polson's defense set the tone early by holding the capable Columbia Falls squad to just 17 first-half points.
"Defensively, I thought it was one of our best efforts of the year. I was pretty happy with how we executed our press-breaker against their half-court trap," Polson head coach Brad Pluff said.
After scoring five points in the first quarter, Polson hit for 13 in the second to take an 18-17 halftime lead. Louis Mohr led the Pirates' offense in his first game back, scoring eight of his 15 points in the first half.
Columbia Falls played a 1-2-2 zone defense, so the Pirates looked for Mohr at the high post, where he did a good job of finding a hold in the defense. Mohr would penetrate a little and pull up for a jumper from around the free throw line.
The Wildcats started to pay more attention to Mohr in the second half, but Kyle Bagnell (12 points), Vince DiGiallonardo (11 points) and Tryler Krell capitalized on scoring opportunities. Polson built a 10-point lead (36-26) with about 2:30 remaining in the third. But then Columbia Falls' Kyle Howell put up 10 quick points to narrow the gap, sinking two three-pointers and stealing the ball for two layups.
"Howell, their point guard and best outside shooter, just kept them in it. He's a good player, a good shooter. We knew that going in ... and Vince did a pretty good (defensive) job on him, but he got away from him a few times and he didn't miss," coach Pluff said.
That run by Howell led to a 38-36 Columbia Falls lead early in the fourth.
"We knew they'd make a run sometime. They are too good of a team not to," Pluff said.
But the Pirates kept on executing, finding the open man and scoring mostly off of jump shots.
"They went into a 2-3 and that didn't really bother us. We played really well, up until the last minute," Pluff explained.
That's when the Pirates had a one-point lead, with the ball and a minute to go in the game, but couldn't score over three possessions.
"Most of it was poor execution ... it was loud and with young kids you just never know what's going to happen," Pluff said.
What happened was a turnover, a travel call, a missed shot and a blocked shot by Columbia Falls post Austin Barth.
"They were trying to block everything all night and the last one was big ... Austin Barth did a good job of blocking Krell underneath. That kid must have a seven-foot wingspan," Pluff explained.
The Pirates shot well from the floor, hitting 43 percent of their shots and 7-of-10 from the line, while Columbia Falls kept Polson in the game with a 7-for-22 performance from the line.
But Polson did get out-rebounded 36 to 21, an Achilles heel of the Pirates when they lose.
"We played most of the game really well, but I was real disappointed with how we executed in the last minute of the game," Pluff said.
Though disappointed with the loss, he said his team can take a lot of positives from the game.
DiGiallonardo had six assists to go with 11 points and had just one turnover on the night.
"As much pressure as Columbia Falls puts on us, Vince only had one turnover and we had 11 for the game, which ties our season-low. We just had a few at the wrong time ... the whole game we executed well, but the last minute we didn't," Pluff said. "Louis (Mohr) had 15 (points) in his first game back and played pretty well. Kyle (Bagnell) was steady again. Rausch only had two points but, boy, he played well defensively and had four steals. He guarded (Mitchell) Wassam and held him to six points."
Those are all good things to build on as the Pirates focus on the final stretch of the basketball season.
"I'm not really into moral victories, but we had them on the ropes in their house. But, give them credit. They did what they needed to do ... stepped up defensively against us when they had to," the coach said. "Hopefully, we'll get a roll going over these last four games. I'm hoping we'll play them better here (in Polson next week)."
This week, the Pirates (3-2, 7-7) host Eureka for a non-conference game on Thursday, then head to Libby for a conference tilt on Saturday.
Columbia Falls 50, Polson 48
Polson 5 13 18 12–48
C. Falls 8 9 15 18–50
POLSON - Vince DiGiallonardo 11, Kyle Bagnell 12, Tim Rausch 2, Louis Mohr 15, Tyler Krell 8.
COLUMBIA FALLS - Kyle Howell 17, Nick Emerson 7, Austin Barth 11, Mitchell Wassam 6, Kaleb Johnson 2, Michael Williams 7.