Down by seven early in the third quarter Friday following a 9-0 run by the Mater Dei Knights, the Columbia Eagles quickly got things rolling in the other direction.
Columbia answered Mater Dei’s run with a 9-0 run of its own and rode that momentum the rest of the way to win the first Class 3A regional in school history, holding off the Knights 61-58 before a sellout crowd.
“That’s probably the most intense one of the year,” Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom said. “If we could have them all that way, I would. That’s March Madness at its best right here.”
Brothers Jonathan Holmes and Jordan Holmes each scored 15 points and drained three clutch 3-pointers near the start of the fourth quarter to help the Eagles (22-6) create a little separation.
“We kept our composure the whole game,” said Jonathan Holmes, a senior guard who was mobbed along with his teammates after the win when the Columbia student section stormed the court. “Being a senior-led group and a lot of experience on this team, I thought that helped out a ton down the stretch.
“That 9-0 run by them was huge, but for us to answer that, that’s a senior kind of thing that we’ve got. I couldn’t be any more proud of my teammates for being able to do that.”
Columbia, which finished 15-0 at home this season and won its first regional since 2011, will face Centralia at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Highland Sectional semifinals.
Mater Dei (21-8) got 19 points from senior guard Butchie Timmermann and 17 from Nick Pollmann.
Columbia had four players in double figures, including some strong inside work being done by Drew Huebner (12 points) and Korbin Farmer (11 points and 11 rebounds). Farmer also collected his 1,000th career points in the third quarter.
The Eagles survived a wild ending that saw Mater Dei cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3-pointer by Pollmann with 41.8 seconds remaining. Columbia’s Farmer hit a free throw with 18.9 seconds remaining to push the lead to three before a controversial turnover by the Knights eventually led to two more free throws by Jordan Holmes.
The entire fourth quarter brought out the best in the sellout crowd, with each’s teams fans roaring on nearly every big play.
“Unbelievable,” Jonathan Holmes said. “This was the perfect atmosphere for us. Everybody was hyped up for the game, during the school day no one could stop talking about it.”
As Holmes talked, he looked over at his brother celebrating with teammates. Jordan Holmes had 10 of his 15 points in the second half and Jonathan Holmes had eight points in the fourth quarter.
“I love that little guy,” Jonathan Holmes said. “He’s what makes me go. He’s a spectacular player. It’s just truly a blessing to be out there with him.”
Mater Dei led 40-33 after the 9-0 run and didn’t score in the third quarter until Jordan Holmes nailed a 3-pointer from the corner at the 3:32 mark. Holmes scored again to cap a 9-0 run and the teams headed to the fourth quarter tied 42-42.
“That’s a regional championship game, nobody’s going to lay down and let you win,” Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said. “They competed, we competed ... these kids gave it their all tonight. We came up short and you give credit to Columbia for playing extremely well and making some big plays when they needed to make them.”
Timmermann hit all six of his shots in the first half, scoring 13 points. The Knights drained their first eight shots during the second quarter and were 14-of-18 from the floor in the opening half - yet still trailed the Eagles 33-31 at halftime.
Columbia’s success came from a balanced approach, with Huebner doing damage inside with nine points in the first half.
“We’re an experienced club and we’ve been through that a lot,” Sandstrom said of the decisive third quarter turnaround. “Tonight was three years in the making in my opinion. Tonight we sat over there and we knew we had to answer — and I credit our senior leadership for that run that we made.”