BILLINGS — The Columbus Cougars will get a fourth chance to beat top-ranked Big Timber when the teams meet in the Class B girls state basketball tournament championship game.

The Cougars defeated Roundup 41-34 in Friday’s second state semifinal on the heels of Big Timber’s 56-43 win over Malta at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.

Columbus’ first three jabs at beating Big Timber didn’t take: The Sheepherders won 55-34, 57-28 and 49-40, the most recent in last week’s Southern B championship game.

But if the Cougars have proven anything this season, they’re not afraid of a challenge. That’s coach Jeromey Burke’s description of how this band of Cougars reached their first state championship game since 2001.

“I’m just happy to get another shot to go up against (Big Timber),” Burke said. “And these girls get to test themselves one more time against a really, really good team.”

Indeed, the Sheepherders have a chance Saturday night to cap an unbeaten season. At 23-0, Big Timber is playing in its first championship game since the school won back-to-back titles in 1980 and 1981.

The Herders reached the semis last year, but lost. They’ve gone at least one step further this season.

“I played for Big Timber, too, and when I was a senior we got third,” said Herders coach Kim Finn. “I always wanted a state championship as a player, never got it. So being able to coach this group and get to have a chance to get a state championship is just overwhelmingly exciting.”

Saturday’s championship game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

Also Saturday: Anaconda (14-7) plays Roundup (18-5) at 9 a.m. in a loser-out game at Billings Skyview, while Malta (18-3) takes on Eureka (17-6) in another loser-out game at Metra at 9 a.m. Those two winners will play for third place at 3 p.m.

Earlier Friday, Anaconda eliminated Missoula Loyola 47-43, and Eureka knocked out Fairfield, 46-44, in overtime.

Big Timber 56, Malta 43

Emily Cooley didn’t think she should start. A sprained ankle kept the Big Timber junior on the bench for the Sheepherders’ first-round win on Wednesday, and following warmups for Friday’s semifinal, Cooley told coach Finn that perhaps someone else should start.

Finn wasn’t having any of that.

“I’m sorry, you’re going to start,” Finn told Cooley. “Just let me know if you can’t make it.”

Cooley started, and once the adrenaline kicked in, she said, she felt fine. She hit 9 of 11 shots and scored a game-high 19 points, including 10 in the second quarter to help the Herders gain control of the game. She grabbed six rebounds, as well.

Big Timber trailed 11-4 after the first quarter, but a 22-point second quarter pushed the Herders to a 26-20 halftime lead. Big Timber never gave up the lead in the second half.

“We’ve never been held to four points in the first quarter, I don’t think,” said Cooley, who still had a large bag of ice taped to her left ankle after the game. “It was kind of like, we need to get our heads in the game. We need to get aggressive out on the floor and we had to leave everything on the floor to win this game.”

Allison Kunze had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead Malta, which trailed by four with 6:40 to play after a 3-pointer by Kylie Hunter. Big Timber closed it out from there, though, outscoring the M’ettes 15-6 the rest of the way.

Bailey Finn added 17 points and five assists and Hailee Brandon finished with 13 points for the Herders.

“This is what we’ve wanted for the past two years,” said Cooley, a junior. “We just gave it our all because if we would have lost it would have sucked a lot.”

Columbus 41, Roundup 34

The Cougars have just sort of willed their way to get to this point. Each postseason game has seemed an edge-of-your seat kind of game if you’re a Columbus fan. But that seems to be OK with this group.

“It’s just a great group of girls working together,” senior Payton West said. “It’s been interesting, but definitely fun. And I’m just over the moon that we’re able to be here and able to go to the championship tomorrow. I just can’t explain it.”

West scored a game-high 14 points, along with teammate Sawyer Wiggs, and they did it in different fashion.

Wiggs went 4 for 5 on 3-pointers, and in game that was still a two-point margin with 2:15 to play, each basket was big. West went 8 for 8 from the foul line, including 6 for 6 in the final 32 seconds to help the Cougars beat Roundup for the third time in four tries this season.

“There’s a competitiveness, and they just learn how to compete,” Burke said. “And that’s what they've done. We’ve just had girls who are mentally ready to go every game. It’s hard to find people you can rely on every game, because in this tournament it had to be every game.”

Blythe Sealey scored 10 points and Cate Cota had eight to lead the Panthers. A basket from Meghan Eiselein with 6:05 left gave Roundup a 31-30 lead, but Reed Johnson gave Columbus the lead back for good about 30 seconds later.

The Panthers were in the semifinals for the first time since 1995 and were playing for the program’s first-ever state championship berth. Now, they still have hopes of taking home the third-place trophy.

“If you look at the teams that are left, you know, just being a part of this experience, which is new to me, it makes you really realize that it’s a privilege to compete against them,” Roundup coach Dan Eiselein said. “That’s a privilege. And we belong here. I think we belong here, for sure. I feel we’re competing very well, and it’s just a wonderful experience.”

Anaconda 47, Missoula Loyola 43 (OT)

Anaconda beat Missoula Loyola in overtime to keep its season going in the consolation bracket.

The No. 9-ranked Copperheads trailed 26-16 in the second quarter but finished it on a 4-0 run and outscored the No. 6 Breakers (18-6) 12-5 in the third. 

Anaconda freshman Makena Patrick scored 11 points (4 of 12 from the field) and grabbed 13 rebounds, senior Megan Reich added nine points (3 of 6) and junior Sami Johnson had six points (6 of 8 from free throw line) and six assists.

Loyola junior Natalie Clevenger scored 16 points (6 of 18 on field goals) and grabbed 10 rebounds, senior Brooke Twite had nine points (3 of 7) and five boards and junior Lani Walker added six points (2 of 15) and seven boards.

Eureka 46, Fairfield 44

The No. 7 Lions held off the Eagles in a loser-out game.

Eureka led 11-8 after one quarter, 26-21 at halftime and 36-29 after three. The Lions built their biggest lead of the game in the fourth, 39-29. Fairfield (15-8) allowed 25 turnovers while forcing 16.

Katie Schmidt led Eureka with 11 points (3 of 13 from the field), and fellow senior Kyla Bohne added 10 (3 of 12).

Fairfield junior Tori Jones led all players with 12 points (5 of 9), and senior Kyler Bake added seven points (3 of 3) and eight rebounds.


Billings Gazette and reporter Victor Flores contributed to this story.

Email Mike Scherting at or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert

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