It was time to dance again Saturday for the Four Winds-Minnewaukan boys basketball team.
By Harry Lipsiea
For the fourth time in five seasons, the Four Winds-Minnewaukan boys basketball team is heading to the State Class B tournament. Don't get it wrong, however, it's qualifying for the final field of eight teams is anything but easy. It's an accomplishment that the Indians don't take for granted, head coach Rick Smith told the Journal.
"It's very difficult to qualify for state," he commented. "I have to give a lot of credit to these boys. This group has had a target on their back all season long, playing one of the state's tough schedules against top teams in hostile environments. I am very proud of how our players have handled it. It's not easy to do what they have done and they remained focused the whole way."
Four Winds-Minnewaukan overcame an early deficit to walk away with a 64-55 victory over a previously-unbeaten St. John team Saturday afternoon. It was a packed house at the Devils Lake Sports Center as the large crowd watched the state's top ranked teams go at it in the Region 4 championship game.
The Indians, 23-1, advance to the state tournament beginning Thursday in Minot. St. John wraps up their season at 23-1. It was a historic season for the Woodchucks as the team won their first-ever District 8 championship and played in the region title game for the first time in 10 seasons.
"It's a big step for the program," fifth-year St. John head coach Steve Poitra told the Journal. "For these guys to have this type of a season is great. Losing to an excellent team like Four Winds-Minnewaukan is nothing to be ashamed of. They are number one for a reason."
St. John held a 13-9 advantage after one period thanks to early buckets by Kevin Grant and Kyler McGillis.
The Woodchucks continued to lead during a majority of the first half. A jumper by Grant gave the squad a four-point advantage. In the final two minutes, however, the Indians made a late push. A jumper by Charlie Black and back-to-back buckets by Tronis McKay helped the Indians build a 25-21 lead going into the locker room at halftime.
"We came into the game with some nerves," Smith said. "I thought our guys got looks, but just couldn't hold on to the ball. Being able to get a nice little lead before the half was crucial for us."
Four Winds-Minnewaukan jumped out to a very quick start scoring 12 of the first 14 points. Layups from McKay, Black and Steve Redfox made the score 37-24 in favor of the Indians. Give credit to the Woodchucks as the squad battled back in a quick way. Inside baskets by Bradley Defender and Grant along with free throws by McGillis got the team within seven going into the fourth quarter at 42-35.
Thanks to a three by McGillis, St. John got within five points at 45-40 early in the final period. But, the Indians have a talented for responding to their opponents. A clutch three-pointer by Steve Redfox followed by a steal and layup by McKay gave the Indians a 50-40 lead. The team kept it going from there. A long jumper by Irvin Tomahawk along with jumpers by Redfox and McKay made the score 58-40.
There was no sign of quit in St. John. Three-point shots by McGillis and Defender along with a three-point play by Defender cut the deficit to eight points in the final two minutes.
A jumper by LaRock and free throws from Redfox helped the Indians closed out the 64-55 victory.
"In a big game like that and an intense crowd, I thought overall we played pretty well," Smith said. "I am proud of the way our guys handled it. Our players, particularly our seniors, deserve it."
Poitra pointed out that the big start from the Indians early in the third was extremely important in the contest. The Woodchucks fought back, but never got closer than five points.
"We just went cold for a little bit there. Our guys couldn’t get anything to fall especially at the free-throw line," he added.
Four Winds-Minnewaukan was led by McKay with 23 points. Redfox, who added nine rebounds, scored 18 points. Black netted nine points while Tomahawk scored eight. LaRock rounded out the scoring with six points.McGillis was the high scorer for the Woodchucks with 17 points. Grant added 16 points while Defender chipped in with 13 points. Dalton Prouty scored six points and Matthew Murphy added two. Dylan Davis rounded out the scoring with a point.
Smith commended St. John on its efforts noting that the team has had an excellent season.
"They deserve to go to state just as much as we do. St. John has a great team with very talented players. It's getting to be a very strong program," the coach pointed out. "All you can say is hats off to Steve for the job he's done with that group. They are fantastic."
Poitra added, "I am very proud of the boys. They came out, battled and faced some adversity. We never quit. Even when we were down by double digits, the boys kept playing hard. That's what I am most proud of."
For Four Winds-Minnewaukan, there wasn't much time to celebrate. Due to hazardous winter weather, three regional tournaments were pushed back two days. Ultimately, that means two less days of preparation for the Indians and two other teams.
That's just how it goes, Smith noted.
"We are going to celebrate today, then get right back at it," the coach said. "This group of kids have an idea of how to prepare and what to expect out of the state tournament. Most of our players had a taste of it last season."
Four Winds-Minnewaukan plays Thursday at 6 p.m. against Region 8 champion Stanley.
It's an exciting time for Four Winds-Minnewaukan and its faithful following.
"I am extremely happy for our community," Smith said. "We have outstanding support. No matter where we go, our fans follow. Making the state tournament is exciting for everyone involved."