COLUMBUS — ’Tis the season of giving, so who could blame Poynette’s prep girls basketball team for being in the holiday spirit?

Fortunately for the Pumas, the 39 presents — err, free throw attempts — they delivered to Columbus didn’t empty out their bank account.

Twice the Cardinals were able to climb back from big deficits — of 15 points in the first half and 14 points in the second — thanks in large part to the 28 free throws they made, but a shortage of ability to create good looks in the halfcourt offense proved too much to overcome and they suffered a 61-56 loss in a Capitol North Conference game here Friday night.

“Consistent effort,” Columbus head coach Tim Dworak said of what ultimately was the difference. “We had peaks and valleys throughout the game, and if we can have that consistent effort that you saw when we made those runs — if we can do that, we’re going to be OK.”

Still, getting to the line almost made the topsy-turvy ride end in smooth fashion.

“That was a big difference,” Poynette head coach Randy Hamilton said of why it was his team wasn’t able to parlay a 25-10 first half lead or a 45-31 lead early in the second half into a more comfortable margin of victory. “Our defense I thought was quite good all night long, but the fouls (were a problem).”

Most of the infractions were of the reach-in variety.

“They’ve just got to keep their hands straight out or straight up and quit breaking the plane,” Hamilton said.

Foul trouble was about all the Pumas (5-3, 1-0 Capitol North) had to complain about, though, as evidenced by the fact that when they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot, they had little trouble keeping the Cardinals (2-8, 0-1) at bay.

And a big reason for controlling things much of the way was how well 5-foot-6 guard Hanna Walters played.

“She had everything going for her — she had the drive going for her, she had the 3-point shot going,” Dworak said of the junior, who finished with a game-best 25 points and hit five 3s, including three in the first half for nine of her 19 points before the break.

“She lit it up in the first half,” added Hamilton. “It was nice because she does that every day in practice, so I’ve been waiting for it to show up in a game, and it finally did so I was happy for her.”

Great as she was, though, she was the one in the most foul trouble all night long.

She had to sit for a large chunk of time with two fouls in the first half and then another large chunk with four fouls in the second half. She eventually fouled out with 4 minutes, 59 seconds to go. All Walters’ time on the bench had a big hand in helping the Cardinals hang around the way they did.

Walters’ first away from the floor was a contributing factor to Columbus’ 13-0 run that erased most of a 25-10 deficit — Poynette had gone on a 14-0 run of its own a bit earlier to help build the big lead — with 1:55 left in the half.

And her sitting in the second half — before and after fouling out — helped Columbus chip away at the 45-31 deficit and eventually trail by just five at 60-55 on Jordan Link’s 3 from the right corner with 28 seconds to go.

But it turned out to be too little, too late for the Cards, who went 1-of-2 at the free throw line down by that same score with 11.4 ticks left in what ended up being the final nail in the coffin.

Still, they showed grit in not folding when the chips were down.

“We talk about persevering all the time. When we were handling adversity, down 15 in the first half, one of my players said, ‘Let’s call timeout.’ I let her timeout and she took the huddle and she said what she needed to say, and then we got back out and went on a little run,” Dworak said. “The perseverance that these girls showed is good going into the New Year once we come back from Christmas break.”

The same can be said about the Pumas, who in addition to the foul trouble also were able to overcome 6-2 leading scorer Ashlynn Klosky (17.0 points per game) having to take a number of spells on the bench because she’s battling the flu.

“I was happy with how we played,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to have a lot of ups and downs — I have such a young team. And I think Columbus has a really good team (despite its record) to be honest with you.

“I think our conference is going to be really tight all year long.

POYNETTE 61, COLUMBUS 56

Poynette 28 33 — 61

Columbus 23 33 — 56

POYNETTE (61) — Megan Reddeman 2, Jalynn Morter 17, Lucy Cuff 1, Haley Walters 2, Hanna Walters 25, Mandy Wierzba 5, Ashlynn Klosky 7, Katelyn Chadwick 2. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 20 12-25 61.

COLUMBUS (56) — Jordan Link 11, Erica Patrick 18, Ashley Henry 10, Kady Meyers 2, Taylor Zittel 2, Carlie Brunell 11, Molly Kahl 2. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 12 28-37 56.

3-pointers: Poynette 9 (Jalynn Morter 3, Hanna Walters 5, Mandy Wierzba 1), Columbus 4 (Jordan Link 2, Erica Patrick 1, Carlie Brunell 1). Total fouls: Poynette 26, Columbus 24. Fouled out: Poynette — Hanna Walters. Columbus — Erica Patrick.

Follow Dan on Twitter @Danny_Larson_8.