Some could look at Friday’s senior night and final regular season game at Columbia High School between the Eagles boys basketball team (15-13, 7-3 in the Cahokia Conference) and the Freeburg Midgets (9-18, 3-7) as sort of a practice game for the postseason. The two will meet Monday in the first round of regional play.
But the contest was anything but a breeze, with the teams battling it out in an overtime thriller.
“We got off to a good start but turned the ball over going into the second half, giving them the lead,” Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom said, describing Freeburg’s 30-26 halftime edge.
Eagles junior Cole Foster had a strong start, putting up 10 points in the first quarter and ending the night with a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds).
Sandstrom said after the first quarter the Midgets put a lot of pressure on Foster, keying in on shutting down the 6’4”, 240 pound center. The coach also pointed out Columbia’s ability to shut down key Midgets center Justin Diecker.
“We did a nice job on their big kid, forced him into being uncomfortable and forcing him into doing things he didn’t want to do,” Sandstrom said.
The defense on both sides of the ball, along with a few key buckets from senior Adam Babb and the Eagles’ ability to crash the offensive boards, kept the game tight until the end of regulation.
The Midgets and Eagles went into overtime at 48-48. Columbia went on a 10-0 run in the extra frame, pulling out a 58-48 win.
Columbia’s rock this season, senior Michael Hunsaker, came up with 16 points and led the team with five assists on the night. Fellow senior Adam Babb added 10 points and junior Jacob Wessel scored 11 points.
Columbia has a week off before returning to the hardwood to face Freeburg for the fourth time this season in Monday’s Waterloo regional game at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ll have to invent some things to keep them interested,” Sandstrom explained, adding that the IHSA decided to move CHS up from Class 2A to 3A. This prevented Columbia from adding games in the last week of competition leading up to 3A and 4A regional play that begins a week after 1A and 2A regional play.
Columbia now leads the series with Freeburg 2-1. Sandstrom says the team hopes to get past Freeburg for the third time this season and greets the challenge of facing the traditionally tough, No. 1 seeded Cahokia in the semifinals.
“Maybe we have a chance to shock the state of Illinois,” Sandstrom said.
The coach also alluded to his team’s success this season despite the road blocks.
“For all the things and all of the injuries, losing our best player before the season starts; for us to have 15 wins and go 7-3 in the conference, I think it shows something of our kids.”