By Harry Lipsiea
After feeling that his team played tight and tentative Tuesday in the semifinals, Lakota-Edmore head girls basketball coach Duane Connell looked for the group to play more relaxed Thursday evening during the Region 4 title game.
By Harry Lipsiea Journal Sports After feeling that his team played tight and tentative Tuesday in the semifinals, Lakota-Edmore head girls basketball coach Duane Connell looked for the group to play more relaxed Thursday evening during the Region 4 title game.
Well, Coach Connell got exactly what he asked for as the Raiders controlled the contest against North Star for four quarters. In addition to the squad's usual impressive defense, Lakota-Edmore shot 51 percent from the field on the night. With both components working as one for the team, the Raiders captured their second Region 4 crown with their 65-45 victory Thursday in Devils Lake.
"We played so much looser today," Connell told the Jorunal. "I thought we specifically did a much better job attacking on the offensive side. It was a great effort. We knew if we kept playing the defense that got us here and were less tight offensively, that we would have a good result."
It was something the players felt as well. Shaye Ronningen noted that the team was determined to play more relaxed Thursday.
"I think we knew that we couldn't play so uptight tonight," the senior forward stated. "In the locker room, we talked about playing to win instead of not to lose. That really paid off for us."
From the start, Lakota-Edmore was effective offensively. The Raiders moved the ball freely, got open looks and knocked them down. It was a process that took place all evening long. It started in the first as back-to-back jumpers by Jaedyn Pesek and Ronningen gave the squad a 12-6 lead early on. North Star pushed back and cut the deficit to 14-10 going into the second period.
An 11-0 scoring run to start the second was huge for Lakota-Edmore. Transition buckets by Ronningen, Fallyn Freije and Montana Halberg opened up a 15-point lead for the Raiders. Again, the Bearcats worked to keep the game at striking distance. A jumper by Sarah Hagler got her team within 11 points at 30-19 going into the locker room at halftime.
The second half was more of the same as the Raiders continued to have offensive success. Jumpers by Pesek and Freije helped their squad take a 50-28 lead into the fourth period. As they have done all tournament long, the Bearcats showed no quit and put together an impressive pressure defense late in the game. The team did cut into Lakota-Edmore's lead getting as close as 15. The Raiders, however, kept their composure and ran away with the 65-45 victory.
"This just feels so great," Freije, a 6-1 forward said. "After losing in the regional championship game last year, it was so important to try win it this year. Everything we have done as a team built to this moment. It's just perfect. I'm so happy right now."
One key to Lakota-Edmore's offensive success was balance. With three players in double figures and two other players not far behind, the Raiders received scoring from all over the court. Ronningen led all players with 22 points on the night. Freije had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Teammate Pesek added 10 points and five boards. Mary Haman and Halberg added nine and seven points, respectively.
"We flowed so much better tonight on offense," Ronningen said. "We attacked and that made a big difference." North Star was led by Hagler with 21 points. The Raiders have drawn from close games against tough teams they played earlier this year including some losses. Lakota-Edmore, 18-6, played an extremely difficult schedule featuring the top three teams in Class B and Valley City.
Those big games paid off for the third-seed from District 7 Thursday night.
"All year, we have talked about learning after every game," Connell said. "Those tough games gave us that experience and I think that really helped us."
Freije added, "We played some awesome teams and that definitely prepared us for the regional tournament."
The Raiders advance to the State Class B Tournament in Fargo. The tournament gets underway Thursday. Connell hopes to see his team continue the trend of playing loose and relaxed.
"Our main goal this season was to win the region," the coach said. "I think now the pressure is off and we can just go in there and play."