Boys High School Basketball

Three years ago, this team didn’t win a game. Now they’re district champions.

Watch Columbia’s pair of buzzer-beating 3-pointers

Senior guard Jake Poulton made a 3-pointer to force overtime and then made the game-winning triple in OT to give Columbia a 67-64 victory over Vallivue in the 4A District Three Tournament championship game Thursday at Vallivue High in Caldwell.
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Senior guard Jake Poulton made a 3-pointer to force overtime and then made the game-winning triple in OT to give Columbia a 67-64 victory over Vallivue in the 4A District Three Tournament championship game Thursday at Vallivue High in Caldwell.

Jake Poulton knows what it’s like to go an entire high school basketball season without a win.

After Thursday night, he also knows what it feels like to be a champion.

Poulton made two buzzer-beating 3-pointers — the first at the end of regulation and the second in overtime — to lift Columbia to a 67-64 victory over Vallivue in the 4A District Three Tournament championship game at Vallivue High. It is the first district title in program history.

“We have just stuck together through all the pain and losses,” Poulton said. “We believed in each other when no one else did. That really shows, because this season we’ve made some noise.”

During Poulton’s freshman year on varsity, the Wildcats went 0-22. It was part of a 54-game losing streak for Columbia that began on Feb. 5, 2014, and didn’t come to an end until Dec. 15, 2016.

Even last season, the Wildcats only managed five wins. Now they’ll be playing in their first state tournament next week.

Columbia (18-6) opens state play against Century (20-4) at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Borah High. Vallivue (14-10) faces either Moscow or Lakeland at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 28 at Borah.

[Related: 4A state tournament bracket]

“I just love the game of basketball. I wasn’t going to transfer or leave or anything like that,” Poulton said. “I was just like, I’m going to make a name for myself. I’m going to put my school on the map and do good things for them. I just always believed in my team.”

Poulton led all scorers Thursday with 31 points, going 7-for-11 from 3-point range with seven rebounds, six steals, two assists and one blocked shot. Sophomore forward Jaylen Alexander also came up big for the Wildcats with a double-double of 25 points and 11 boards.

The pair combined for 31 of Columbia’s final 33 points and teamed up for the overtime-forcing play at the end of regulation.

First Poulton sank a triple with 6.1 seconds left to pull Columbia within 55-52. Following a timeout, the Wildcats lined up in a full-court press, with Alexander set up on Vallivue’s inbounds passer.

Alexander used his 6-foot-5 frame to get a hand on Vallivue’s inbounds pass, and Poulton was able to scoop up the loose ball, collect himself and fire off the game-tying 3-pointer.

“Man, he’s the heart and soul of this team,” Alexander said. “We definitely wouldn’t have been here without him. He was making the shots that we needed, and it was just insane. I still can’t believe that we won that.”

Poulson’s hot hand continued into the overtime frame, and coach Tennison Tripple smartly let his senior standout finish what he started.

“It’s fun to see, especially for him,” Tripple said. “He lived through all the losing and he never quit. The kid works harder than any high school basketball player I’ve ever been around. He works his tail off and quite frankly, the way this ended, he deserves that. He’s a heck of a kid.

“He’s put those shots up thousands and thousands of times, that’s why he made it.”

Vallivue, which knocked down 11 3-pointers in the loss, qualified for state for the third year in a row under fourth-year coach Ryan Lundgren. Senior guard Amoro Lado paced the Falcons with 26 points, and junior Mike Fitts chipped in 15 points on five 3s.

“I think it just came down to a couple of plays,” Lundgren said. “For one kid to hit two buzzer-beaters like that, you’ve got to tip your hat to him.”

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