Alex Presnell was held scoreless in Columbia Falls’ first-round loss to Laurel on Thursday while being plagued by early foul trouble.
The 5-foot-8 guard more than made up for it Friday, pouring in 22 points on 6-of-11 shooting as the Wildcats beat Browning 72-56 in a State A loser-out game at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
“All season we’ve done a nice job of following up a poor game the next time out,” said Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg. “I knew we would respond today but I didn’t know we would do it in quite the fashion we did.”
Presnell got the Wildcats on the board early and often as he hit a pair of 3-point baskets within the game’s first minute. That was before senior Austin Martin knocked down a pair of long balls to stake the Northwestern A champions to a quick 14-5 advantage just 2:30 into the contest.
“We wanted to get off to a good start today,” said Presnell. “I was able to hit a couple of shots early and then Austin knocked down a couple and got us rolling and got our crowd into it."
The Wildcats shot 5 of 5 from behind the arc in the opening stanza, and were 57 percent overall for the quarter.
“Alex set the tone for us today with those two shots to open the game,” said Finberg. “Today was a complete effort by everyone.”
Presnell and Martin weren’t the only ones singeing the nets in the opening frame as Browning stayed in the game through much of the first quarter behind the long-range shooting of DeeJay Lazy Boy.
Lazy Boy hit five threes -- with one coming from a Northwest Energy logo roughly 25 feet from the basket -- on his way to 15 first-quarter points. But he found the bottom of the net just once more as Columbia Falls limited the 5-foot-11 senior to 6-of-21 shooting.
Browning converted on just two field goals in the second quarter as Columbia Falls closed the half on a 10-2 run to take a 45-28 lead into halftime.
The Wildcats extended their lead with back to back baskets by Presnell to open the third quarter as they took their largest lead of the game at 49-28 with 6:46 to play in the frame.
But from there the Wildcats went cold as Browning used its 2-2-1 full-court pressure to outscore Columbia Falls 14-2 over the final 6:30 to cut the lead to nine heading into the fourth.
Browning extended the surge to a 17-2 margin when George Hall scored to open the final quarter as the Indians got to within six, 51-45.
Much like Thursday when the Wildcats went without a field goal for nearly 14 minutes, Columbia Falls trudged through another nine-minute drought where its only points came from the free throw line.
“We went through a dry spell again but were able to limit it today,” said Presnell. “I thought we did a good job of playing smart basketball down the stretch.”
Presnell’s basket with 6:09 to play in the game stopped the bleeding and was their final field goal until Trevor Houston beat the buzzer with a layup for the final margin.
Columbia Falls converted on 31 of 39 free throws on the afternoon, including 17 of 21 in the fourth quarter, while Browning was just 6 of 10 from the line.
Browning finished the season with a 17-5 record. Columbia Falls (16-6) advanced to play the loser of Friday night’s semifinal between Billings Central and Butte Central.
“Our goal coming into state was to be playing Saturday night,” Presnell said. “We still have the chance to do that, we just have to come out and make shots (Saturday) morning.”