FARGO, N.D. — The goal was set in place just after the 2011-12 basketball season came to a close for Devils Lake.
The goal was achieved in dramatic fashion on Tuesday as the Firebirds rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half to slip past Fargo North 67-66 in the season opener for the Firebirds.
“Our goal was to win our first game (this season),” Devils Lake coach Derek Gathman said after his team’s improbable comeback. “I am not sure how we won ... but whatever we did, it worked.”
Nate Mertens provided the winning points when he scored with just 6.8 seconds left in the game to cap the rally. Devils Lake had closed to within one point eight seconds earlier when Chase Johnson grabbed a rebound of a Mertens miss and scored to set up the dramatic finish.
It was the second straight year Mertens has provided a game-winning shot to defeat the Spartans after doing the same damage last season in a game at the Devils Lake Sports Center.
“Obviously (Mertens) had a big game,” Gathman said, “but I thought (Johnson) and Spencer Halvorson did a good job of stepping up big when we needed them.”
Halvorson hit a 3-pointer with just under one minute left in the game to pull Devils Lake to within 66-63 before the heroics by Johnson and Mertens. It was one of three 3-pointers on the night for the junior sharp-shooter.
“We are not going to have problems scoring, that’s for sure,” the Devils Lake coach added. “We just have to put together a complete game on both sides of the ball.”
Devils Lake trailed 43-23 at halftime, but its defense stepped up at critical times and also limited Fargo North to just three points as the Firebirds closed on a 28-3 run to secure the win.
“It is nice to get the monkey off our backs early,” said Gathman, who led the Firebirds to a 4-16 record last season his first season as coach at Devils Lake. “We have some young players who played with some jitters ... but as they come to understand their roles better, they will become solid contributors.”
Mertens, an all-state selection last season, opened his final high school season by scoring 34 points for the Firebirds. He connected on 10 shots from the floor, including one 3-pointer, and was successful on 11 of 13 foul shots to account for his scoring outburst.
Two other Firebirds also ended with double figures in scoring. Johnson tallied six field goals and was three of four from the line for 15 points, while Halvorson finished with 13 points in the game, including three field goals from beyond the arc.
Devils Lake is scheduled to play at Grand Forks Red River on Thursday and will open the home portion of its schedule on Saturday when the Firebirds entertain West Fargo as part of a doubleheader with the the DLHS girls squad at the Devils Lake Sports Center.
Page 2 of 2 - The Firebird girls, who dropped their opener on Saturday at Fargo North, are scheduled to play Red River at home on Friday before Saurday’s tilt against the Packers.