Borja helps Freeburg top Columbia to keep first outright league crown since 2006 in grasp

FREEBURG — Bella Borja got a chance to eat healthy on Monday.

The Freeburger High Senior used the rare snow/ice-free day to upgrade their usual lunchtime meal.

“Salad and some pineapple chunks,” said the 5ft 10in forward. “That was all I needed.”

The Midgets may want to incorporate this daily double into a team meal later.

Borja scored a season-high 19 points to help Freeburg to a 57-46 win over rival Columbia in a Cahokia Conference Mississippi Division girls basketball competition at Freeburg High.

The red-hot Midgets (19-8 overall, 8-0 league) won their eighth straight win and defeated Columbia for the ninth straight year.

They were just two games away from claiming the overall league crown for the first time since 2006.

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Freeburg meet Salem in a conference game on Thursday and will end the season on February 9 at Breese Central (16-9, 6-1) in a contest that could decide the crown.

It’s a good bet that Borja will also eat lettuce and pineapple ahead of this competition.

“Without school, it wasn’t a normal day,” said Borja. “We could eat well, sit around and relax in the afternoon.”

Borja, who attends volleyball at Kaskaskia College, was within two points of her career-high 21 set against Okawville last season.

Their offensive skills and three blocks on defense played a key role in the Midgets’ 22-6 start in the opening eight minutes.

“We have included this first quarter in our new press,” Borja said. “We found a lot of intensity in that. We enjoy putting pressure on people.”

This defensive sorcery was the key to triumph.

The Eagles (17-9, 5-3) never recovered from the early volley but managed to reduce a 26-point deficit to 14 late in the third period.

“We have to be able to handle the pressure,” said Columbia coach Scott Germain. “It’s kind of frustrating. But once we settled in we were able to play a bit.”

Columbia scored the last six points of the game to make the final score appear relatively close.

But the contest was essentially decided in that opening stanza.

“There are a lot of seniors in our squad and they know how to bring the intensity,” said Freeburg coach Bethany McQuiston. “It’s their penultimate game on their home ground so they had a lot of energy with it.

“Plus, it’s always fun to play against Columbia.”

Freeburg senior Natalie Peterson gained 19 points. Senior guard Kylie Kisgen contributed 15 points.

Peterson, who goes to Southwestern Illinois College, scored eight of her team’s first 13 points and sparked the quick exit with a couple of steals.

“We wanted to get points early and our defense would help that happen,” Peterson said. “We’re all quite athletic and that helps a lot.”

Borja and Kisgen were members of the Freeburg volleyball team that finished fourth in class 2A in the fall.

The Midgets used a 14-0 run in the final 3 minutes and 9 seconds of the first quarter to take control.

Kisgen started the blitz with a 3-pointer and Peterson converted a layup after a steal from Borja for a 13-6 lead. Kisgen then followed with an old-fashioned 3-point game. Calli Smith kept the streak going with two foul shots.

Borja then hit two baskets in the last 67 seconds of the third and extended the lead to 16 points.

Columbia, behind senior Karsen Jany’s 16 points, finished 42-28 by the end of the third period.

Kisgen silenced the rally with a 3-pointer.

The Eagles stayed afloat with back-to-back baskets from Jany, who will play softball at St. Louis University.

Peterson quashed the second rally with a driving layup for a 55-38 pad.

Freeburg seems to have peaked at the right time. It won the Hillsboro Tournament over the weekend.

“We’re just starting to play our best basketball,” Peterson said. “And this is the perfect time to do it.”

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