The Devils Lake girls basketball team has advanced to the EDC tournament beginning Tuesday.
By Harry Lipsiea
The Devils Lake girls basketball team faced a new situation Saturday afternoon: Win or go home. With a victory over Fargo North, the squad qualified for the EDC playoffs beginning Tuesday. If the Firebirds lost, however, their season would come to an end.
Despite facing high stakes, the youthful Devils Lake team saw no signs of a letdown in the conference play-in game. Other than trailing early in the contest, the Firebirds used pressure defense and some nice shooting to control the action throughout. The home team earned a 66-51 victory to qualify for the postseason.
It was a solid performance by the Firebirds considering it was many of the players first taste of the postseason, head coach Justin Klein pointed
"The message in the locker room before tipoff was that the playoffs is a whole different game," he said. "Nothing is given and I think the girls show a sense of urgency we haven't seen to this point."
Devils Lake, 9-13, advances to face the EDC's top seed Fargo Davies Tuesday on the road.
The Firebirds featured good balance as eight players found the scoring column. Klein noted that bench play was key in the victory.
"We are seeing growth as players have really begun to fit into their roles," he said. "I thought the bench did a nice job today. It was just a really good team effort as we used several different looks to apply pressure on defense and push the ball on offense."
One key stretch for Devils Lake was late in the first half. Thanks to a putback by Abby Johnson and a long jumper by Mattea Vetsch, the home team took a 28-20 lead. The Firebirds kept it going as Chiara Olson added two in transition to give her team a 35-26 advantage at the half.
"It was a big momentum swing," the coach said. "One thing we have struggled with this season has been letting our opponents creep back into the game right before the half. Our ability to make a couple stops and score late gave us some confidence going into the locker room."
Devils Lake never lost control of the action in the final 18 minutes. Steals led to baskets by Jessica Mertens and Olson as the squad gained a 46-34 lead. After a couple key stops, the Firebirds stretched its lead to 16 as Macy Schneider and Vetsch nailed jumpers. The home team went on to wrap up the 66-51 triumph.
"I thought our energy was good today," Klein said. "We were patient on offense in half court situations. Defensively, our press caused turnovers and we did a good job of turning them into transition points."
Vetsch led all players with 18 points. Mertens scored 12 points while Olson just missed double figures with nine. Taylor Windjue scored eight points and Schneider scored seven. Abby Johnson netted six points and Averi Zielger added four. Alex Palmer rounded out the scoring with two points.
Devils Lake now prepares for Tuesday's EDC tourney opener against Fargo Davies on the road. The Eagles defeated the Firebirds 80-65 and 64-35 during the regular season.
Klein stated that Devils Lake will work to focus on guards Carly Kottsick and Raegan Linster.
"We haven't seen Fargo Davies in a while," the coach said. "They are team that knows how to win close games and always plays well at home. I think we match up okay, it will just be interesting to see how we come out on the road in a meaningful game. It's a big test for a young team like us."
Tournament time is completely different than the regular season. Klein is interested to see how the Firebirds handle it.
"We have seen some crazy things happen at the EDC tournament through the years," he added. "The key is to make it to Saturday and give ourselves a chance in a qualifying game. I still don't think we have put it all together in one game yet and I think our girls know that they can compete well against every team in the tournament."