Columbia wins regional title in thriller over Mater Dei

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The Columbia basketball team celebrates its regional title win on Friday night. (Corey Saathoff photo)
The Columbia basketball team celebrates its regional title win on Friday night. (Corey Saathoff photo)

With a capacity crowd on hand, Columbia edged Mater Dei for the Class 3A regional hoops crown at home on Friday night, completing an undefeated season in its home gym.

With the 61-58 victory, the Eagles improved to 22-6 on the season, including a perfect 15-0 mark at CHS, and advanced to the sectional round at Highland, where they will face Centralia on Wednesday night.

The win also signaled revenge for a second round playoff football battle between the two schools played in Breese this past fall, which the Eagles lost. Two Columbia seniors from the football team, Jonny Holmes and Drew Huebner, played big roles on the court Friday night.

The atmosphere was electric from the tip-off, with a large contingent of fans for both teams cheering loudly on each basket or important play. Each side expressed vocal displeasure with officiating calls that didn’t go their way at various stages in the game, with emotions nearly reaching a boiling point in the game’s waning minutes. A frustrated Mater Dei fan was escorted from the gym by police, but peace was quickly restored.

The Eagles and Knights traded buckets for much of the early going, with Columbia taking a 33-31 lead into the locker room at halftime. Butchie Timmerman did much of the scoring for Mater Dei in the first half. He finished with 19 points overall.

“Timmerman was killing us in the first half,” Columbia head coach Mark Sandstrom said. “We had to tighten up. Offensively, I was fine with what was going on. We had to clean up our defense.”

The senior-led Eagles appeared to keep their composure a little bit better than the visiting Knights, and that showed when Columbia battled back after Mater Dei went on a 9-0 run early in the second half. The teams were tied at 42-42 after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, the Holmes brothers dialed it up from long distance to give the Eagles the decisive edge.

Jonny Holmes hit two three-pointers and younger brother Jordan hit another to give Columbia a 51-44 lead with 5:30 remaining.

“Those three’s created separation that they could not recover from,” Sandstrom said.

The Knights hit a couple of clutch shots to keep it tight until the very end. A long three-pointer by the Knights cut the lead to 58-56 with 42 seconds left.

Senior Korbin Farmer hit a clutch free throw to put the Eagles up by three with less than 20 seconds remaining. Following a Mater Dei turnover that was heavily disputed by the Knights and their fanbase, Jonny Holmes was fouled and hit two more from the charity stripe.

Jonny and Jordan Holmes each scored 15 points to lead the Eagles. Huebner scored 12 points. Farmer scored 11 points, including the 1,000th point of his CHS career.

“I’m so happy for these guys,” Sandstrom said after the CHS student section stormed the court to celebrate with his players. “It’s been a magical season.”

And it’s not over yet.

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