As good as Taylor Goligoski and Jaylee Albert were Friday night — and they were spectacular — the Hamilton Broncs wouldn’t have shocked top-ranked Columbia Falls in the State Class A girls’ basketball semifinals without some help from their role players.
Even though the two Hamilton stars combined for 35 points, it took two free throws by unsung Sami Kratofil — the Broncs’ only senior — to deliver a stunning 44-39 upset before about 1,200 fans at Four Seasons Arena.
“She (Kratofil) has been struggling with free throws, but she made two big ones,” said Hamilton coach Mark Albert after his squad improved to 19-3 and qualified for tonight’s championship game. “We needed something from everybody tonight, and we got it.”
The 6-0 Kratofil calmly drilled both ends of a 1-and-1 situation with 42.7 seconds remaining in the contest to give her team a 42-39 lead. Those were two of her four points, all from the foul line.
Columbia Falls, which had battled back from an early 15-point deficit, was unable to score the rest of the way.
“We can’t let that game define our season,” said C-Falls coach Cary Finberg, whose team (20-2) lost for the first time against a Class A opponent. “We won three of the four quarters, but we dug way too big a hole.”
Hamilton clearly was ready for battle from the opening tip, racing to an early 8-0 lead as Columbia Falls had three empty possessions to begin the contest.
The Broncs played a nearly flawless first quarter, building a 15-point edge as Jaylee Albert and Goligoski combined for 18 of their team’s 19 points.
“That’s by far the worst offensive quarter we’ve had this season,” said Finberg, whose team had never trailed by double digits all season until Friday night.
The Wildkats never found any offensive rhythm the first half, missing 15 of 19 field-goal tries, many of them from inside the paint. C-Falls trailed 28-13 at intermission and contributed to that deficit by missing six free throws.
Coach Finberg also gave Hamilton two points when he was whistled for a technical foul for protesting an apparent over-and-back call; Jaylee Albert made him pay with two free throws.
The Wildkats sliced the Broncs’ lead to 35-23 after three quarters, but missed several short shots from the lane that could have tightened things up. Senior post Haley Belgarde, who missed most of the first half with three quick personal fouls, sank two inside attempts to bolster the inside game.
Belgarde remained a force as she sank two inside field goals early in the fourth period to bring the Wildkats within 35-29 with 3:45 left in the game.
Junior guard Ciera Finberg drilled two 3-pointers around a basket at the other end by Goligoski to trim Hamilton’s lead to 37-35 with 1:31 left. But the Wildkats got no closer, as Jaylee Albert made three free throws, and Kratofil drilled her crucial pair.
It still wasn’t over.
Goligoski missed two foul shots with 7.0 seconds to play to give C-Falls a chance, down by only 42-39, but Ciera Finberg missed the front end of a bonus and Albert iced it with two more freebies with 2.5 seconds left.
Jaylee Albert, a 5-10 junior guard who is the coach’s daughter, sank 4 of 6 shots from 3-point range and led all scorers with 21 points. Goligoski, a 5-8 junior and returning Tribune Super-State selection, added 14 markers.
Ciera Finberg topped C-Falls with 13 points and Belgarde added 10, all in the second half.
The Wildkats return to the court this morning at 9:30 against Northwest A rival Frenchtown. C-Falls is 3-0 this season against Frenchtown. The Wildkats could still leave Great Falls with the third-place trophy.