The Colton Wildcats are taking nothing for granted.
Not after a 47-40 win over Almira/Coulee-Hartline on Friday night that put the Wildcats one win away from their fourth straight girls State 1B championship.
“We knew they were a tough team and that they’d have a game plan,” said Colton head coach Clark Vining, whose 25-0 team plays Columbia at 9 tonight for the title.
For a defending champion, there’s nothing better than defense.
When their shots weren’t falling, the Wildcats stifled the Warriors for most of the game.
Colton forced 15 turnovers and forced the Warriors into 20 percent shooting in the first half, while junior guard Paige Vincent scored all of her 13 points before halftime.
Turnovers led directly to 11 points for Colton.
“We always spend a lot of time in practice on defense,” Vincent said. “Coach Vining says that if we play good defense and block out, we’ll succeed.”
After leading by nine points at halftime and by as many as 11 in the second half, the Wildcats had to make a defensive stand late in the game.
The Colton lead was twice cut to four, the last time on a 3-pointer by the Warriors’ Kelsey Streeter with 2:34 left.
After a traveling call on Colton, the Warriors (21-5) had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but they couldn’t get off a good shot with 1:45 to play.
The Wildcats’ Grace Druffel hit a free throw with 1:15 left, ACH missed another shot with 44 seconds left, and Colton was on its way to the championship game.
“We know how to handle the pressure, maybe because we’ve been there before,” said Vining, whose team received its first real test during a season in which its average margin of victory has been 46 1/2 points.
“We do a pretty good job of staying calm,” said Vincent, whose 13 points were matched by Haley Moser.
Vincent also had a team-high six rebounds.
ACH, which met Colton in the last two title games, led 4-0 at 4 minutes into the game on a layup by Kodi Noggles before Vincent made it 8-6 with just more than a minute left in first quarter.
Noggles had 10 of the Warriors’ 15 halftime points and led all scorers with 16. Streeter added 12.
Noggles also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Colton led 10-6 after a quarter, then 13-6 before ACH rallied to trim the deficit to two. Vincent gave the Wildcats their halftime cushion with five points just before intermission.