Back-to-back tournament titles for Knights

Ray Maloney, Sports
Dakota Prairie’s Sabrina Rude (24) looks to drive around Four Winds-Warwick-Minnewaukan defenders Montoya Smith (3) and Dorothia Santos (23) during Saturday’s championship game of the Lake Region Invitational at the Devils Lake Sports Center. Rude scored 19 points to lead the Knights past the Indians 63-51. Jordyne Janke (10) looks on for the Knights.

A pair of quick turnovers to start the game aside, Dakota Prairie mastered all of the little things needed to be successful at the game of basketball.

The Knights used an 11-0 run in a span of 3:42 to overtake Four Winds-Warwick-Minnewaukan and never trailed the rest of the way as Dakota Prairie claimed the championship of the annual Lake Region Invitational with a 63-51 win over the Indians on Saturday at the Devils Lake Sports Center.

It was the second consecutive title at the tournament for the Knights.

Dakota Prairie, which had played only two games prior to the tournament, were forced into a pair of turnovers in the first 72 seconds of the game. FW-W-M senior standout Jessica converted the first into a short jumper off the glass to give the Indians the early advantage with just 37 seconds gone in the game.

Dorothia Santos put the Indians in front 4-0 at the 6:48 mark of the opening period when outraced a Dakota Prairie player for an easy layup.

Dakota Prairie's Sabrina Rude ended the modest four point run by the Indians with a 3-pointer to put the Knights on the board.

"We always seem to have those early jitters," Rude said following the awards presentation on the floor of the Sports Center.

"We knew that we had to get back to playing our game and getting our rhythm going," added Rude, who was one of 10 players selected to the all-tournament team. "We started playing our game and started knocking down some shots."

But not before the Indians used a 7-2 run to build an 11-5 lead with just seconds to go when Hale knocked down a spinner in the lane with just six seconds to go in the opening quarter and it appeared FW-W-M was in command.

Brandy Messner, who scored the other points in the period for the Knights on a short jumper over Hale at 4:15, beat the buzzer with a layup as time expired to close Dakota Prairie to within 11-7.

Then it was time for the Knights' timely run that seemed to take plenty of momentum away from the Indians.

Camilla Balmandani, a foreign exchange student from Denmark, started the run with her first basket of the game to pull the Knights to with 11-9 at 6:23 of the period. A pair of free throws from Messner tied the game for the first - and only time - at 11-11 with 6:03 to go.

A pair of free throws from Rude  less than one minute later put Dakota Prairie in front to stay at 13-11.

By the time all was said and done in the first half the Knights outscored FW-W-M 18-4 in the quarter to take 25-15 at the intermission.

"We missed some very easy shots," FW-W-M coach Travis Risovi said following the game.

The Indians were also unable to hit from the outside against a tough Dakota Prairie defense. After connecting on 25 3-pointers in the first two games of the tournament, Risovi's squad was held to just six 3-pointers against Dakota Prairie.

"I'll tell you what, these girls stepped up defensively ... and in a huge way," a near speechless Dakota Prairie coach Tim Anderson said. "(FW-W-M) can shoot lights out and our girls did what they needed to do to give them fits all night."

None more so than the Denmark import.

Balmandani was in the face of Hale much of the night and limited her to just 19 points after combining for 59 points in the first two games of the tournament.

"She is a very, very good player," Balmandani said of Hale. "I knew I had to be on her and not let her get off many good shots."

Hale finished with just seven field goals against the five-foot, 11-inch Denmark native.

"We could not have asked for more from (Balmandani)," Rude said of the defensive play of her teammate. "She really stepped up and did an outstanding job when we needed her the most."

Four Winds trailed by as much as 13 late in the third period, but made things interesting for a short time in the final quarter.

The Indians got a pair of baskets, including a 3-pointer, from Santos and Montoya Smith added her only field goal of the game that allowed FW-W-M to close to within 44-39 with 6:22 to go in the game.

But, a pair of free throws from Messner and Rude, along with a field goal by each of the Dakota Prairie standouts offset a 3-pointer by Hale and helped the Knights regain their double digit advantage. Messner's eight-foot jumper over Hale put Dakota Prairie ahead 52-42 with 4:03 to go.

"The clock could move fast enough," Anderson said of the final period. "I thought (FW-W-M) would get hot, start knocking down some 3's and tie the game."

The Indians would get just three more field goals down the stretch and a pair of free throws from Hale to thwart any comeback hopes the Indians might have had.

Dakota Prairie was able to maintain its cushion by converting on nine of 10 free throws in the final 2:54 to secure the win.

"We kept our heads," explained Messner, who collected her second consecutive MVP at the Lake Region Invitational. She earned the award last season after leading the Knights to the title as a sophomore.

"We worked around the difficult times and got back to communicating and talking  ... and we got things done the way we needed to."

Rude finished the game with 19 points to lead the Knights, while Messner who scored 30 in Friday's win over the Devils Lake junior varsity team, added 18 points of her own. She is now just 35 points away from 1,000 points in her career.

Shelby Gillett, who joined Rude and Messner on the all-tournament team, added 14 points to also finish in double figures for the Knights.

Santos finished with 12 points to join Hale in double figures for the Indians, who are now 7-1 after suffering their first loss of the season.

Dakota Prairie    7    18   17   21   —   63

Four Winds-W-M    11   4    17   19   —  51

Dakota Prairie (63): Sabrina Rude 19, Brandy Messner 18, Shelby Gillett 14, Camilla Balmandani 7, Lauren Becker 5.

Four Winds-Warwick-Minnewaukan (51): Jessica Hale 19, Dorothia Santos 12, Samone Motley 6, Taniesha Rainbow 4, Latisha Teel 3, Illiase Joshua 3, Montoya Smith 2, Hillary Black 2.