It might not have been a work of art, but Columbia’s 28-21 Region 4-3A win over defending state champion Keenan at the Raiders Cove essentially set the Capitals up to lock down the conference championship with a Tuesday win over Fairfield Central.
Columbia, Keenan and Fairfield Central entered Friday’s round in a three-way tie for first.
In a game that featured more turnovers than points, coach Bobby Young’s Capitals (12-6, 5-1) befuddled the Raiders with a second-half surprise — a half-court zone trap.
“It was all about team effort and defense,” the veteran Columbia coach said. “The girls kept their poise when they were struggling offensively in the first half. That change we made on defense really was the difference. It got us going and took them out of their offense.
“We turned the ball over a lot, but we were able to capitalize on enough chances.”
Columbia trailed 11-10 at halftime, but pulled away after the break.
Keenan, which was without starting point guard Dashelle Robinson, could not solve the Capitals’ defensive puzzle.
“We expected a press in the second half, but we just didn’t adjust well,” Keenan coach Reggie McLain said. “Yes, we were missing our point guard, but we expected some other players to step it up and it didn’t happen.”
Columbia seized command with a turnover-fueled, 9-2 run at the outset of the second half. It led 19-13 with 3:16 left in the third quarter. It proved to be a decisive move.
Keenan could not cut the deficit to fewer than four points the rest of the way.
The big push came from Briana Roberts, who closed the move with five points, including a 3-pointer from the left wing, in a 20-second span.
The Caps then put it away for good with a 5-0 burst at the start of the fourth quarter.
Senior Alexis Foulks accounted for half of Columbia’s points, hitting her season average of 14 points.
The Capitals now look to take a one-game lead over both Keenan and Fairfield Central with three games to play.
“Beating Fairfield Central is a big ‘if,’ but we’re going to come out and play hard and see what happens,” Young said.
Keenan (9-8, 4-2) is in the hunt for at a No. 2 seed and a home date to open the playoffs.
“I think we’re OK, but the big thing we are lacking right now is confidence,” McLain said. “We are a young team and things will get better as we start executing better.”