COLUMBIA — The first two games between Columbia and Freeburg this season were decided by a total of three points.
But there was plenty of breathing room for the Columbia Eagles on Thursday and they won their first 3A regional championship with a 43-29 victory over the Midgets.
Columbia seniors Savannah Wittenbrink and Erika Varel ignited a quick start for the Eagles by combining for 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the first half.
"Savannah's been doing it all year long and Erika's shown signs of doing great things, but tonight she really came out and took charge in the first quarter," Columbia coach Scott Germain said. "When she gets her confidence going she can be something special."
Wittenbrink finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds --right around her season averages -- and Varel had 10 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore Kaylee Bastien added eight points for Columbia (21-7), which will play Mater Dei (23-6) at 6 p.m. Monday in the Waterloo Sectional.
"Both of those girls are very experienced and they're good scorers," Freeburg coach Fred Blumberg said. "They've played in big games and we knew it would be a tough task to try to guard both of them. I don't know what their shooting percentage was early, but they couldn't miss."
Columbia split two Cahokia Conference games with Freeburg, winning 46-44 on Nov. 26 and losing 48-47 victory on Jan. 28.
"I just feel like when we played them the last time down there we could never get into any offensive rhythm," Germain said. "Bastien took the ball to the basket several times and in the first quarter we shot the ball well. Any time you can shoot the ball well early it gives you a lot of momentum."
The exact opposite held true on the other side.
Freeburg came in red-hot after winning 10 of its last 11 games, but was 5-for-17 from the floor at halftime. Hoping for improvement, the Midgets missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the second half and never challenged the Eagles.
"They box out well and generally down the floor we got one shot, max," Blumberg said. "They just outplayed us. We got to the basket a lot on them last time and we got there some tonight, but not as much.
"I thought they closed out lanes really well and limited us to one (shot). We're not a good enough shooting team to get by with only one shot."
Abby Lealaimatafao was the only Freeburg player in double-digit scoring with 10 points. Chelsea Hill added six points for the Midgets, who were 11-for-37 (30 percent) from the floor.
Columbia rode the strength of a 55-percent shooting night (17-for-31).
It should be another interesting playoff matchup for Columbia and Mater Dei. Many of these basketball players met on the volleyball court in the Murphysboro Sectional title match, where Columbia defeated the defending state champion Knights.
"We talk about it all the time," Germain said. "These girls have been in big-time games, so they know what it takes. There's something to be said for having a senior-laden ballclub. These girls have been doing it for four years, so we're real proud of that."
Some hot shooting helped Columbia break on top quickly as the Eagles drained seven of their first 12 shots. They had leads of 14-4 and 16-6 in the first half, but an 8-2 run in the second quarter by the Midgets cut the deficit to 16-12.
Columbia answered that punch with one of its own, a 9-0 surge that pushed the Eagles' lead to 25-12. Freeburg scored only once more before halftime and trailed 25-14.