No. 2 Devils Lake thriving off of tight win over No. 5 Grand Forks Red River
Wins hadn't been a breeze for the Firebirds this season, but they had won all of their games by more than one possession coming into their matchup against the Roughriders on Tuesday night. The closest game that has come down to the wire the Devils Lake this season was a 78-70 win over then No. 2 Fargo Davies.
In fact, the Firebirds really haven't been in a tight game situation in awhile. It was against Fargo Davies on Feb. 18, 2020, that the Firebirds game came down to the last shot. It's a situation that Devils Lake hasn't been in a lot, but is one that Klein wants his team to experience in order to fan the flames of the red hot Firebird squad.
A blip in turnovers in the second half and a handful of fouls saw a 13-point Firebird lead at halftime diminish into a tie game with under 15 seconds left. After a timeout, senior center Karli Krogfoss would layup up with 2 seconds left to give No. 2 Devils Lake (7-0) the narrow edge and eventually lead them to a 61-59 win over No. 5 Grand Forks Red River (7-3, 7-2 EDC).
"A lot of our games have not been close, so I think it's good to have a close game for us, situationally," Firebirds head coach Justin Klein said. "We didn't have to fight back, which was a good thing. However, we have some things to improve on, but a win at home against a good team and to stay undefeated is good. This helps keep the momentum going. We haven't had a lot of losses in the last few years, so you kind of worry how the kids would react."
While Devils Lake continues to roll with the wins, they are a different team from last season. The Firebirds have found their strengths on defense and scoring inside the arc, while still developing their 3-point shooting and guard play. The loss of senior Avery Swenson, who would suffer an injury against Grand Forks Central on Dec. 15 forcing her to sit, has left a hole in the Firebirds guard position.
Despite having to clean up their guard play and deep shooting, the Firebirds are still winning at the same rate they have been over the past two seasons. Klein said the team's overall effort has allowed them to fill holes in spots where they might not be 100 percent yet. The Roughriders kept pushing throughout the second half on Tuesday, but the Firebirds would not break and remain in the driver's seat to the final buzzer.
"They're working pretty hard and there was no quit," Klein said. "We had the lead for pretty much the whole night and they [Red River] battled back, and we didn't quit. There were times where we were tired, but the leadership really showed with Brown and Martinson leading the way."
Seniors Jailyn Martinson and Ramsey Brown carried the offense throughout the game as the duo combined for more than half of the Firebirds' points on the night. Martinson would head the effort in the first half, knocking down 12 points for 18 on the night. Brown would have a big first half, draining 13 points, and would drain six more in the second half for 19 on the night.
The Firebirds' hard-working ethic to make up for uneven spots on the court has been powering them forward, but fouls did end up taking a hit on Devils Lake late in the game. Senior forward Rachel Dahlen, who has been a force in the paint for Devils Lake, committed her fifth, sending her to the bench with Red River on the rise, She would finish with 10 points. Klein said he's looking for Krogfoss and junior Erica Nelson to fill into the role for support to Dahlen, or when she's limited like she was Tuesday.
While the Firebirds led for the majority of the game, inexperience at guard and some fatigue at guard began to catch up with the squad in the second half, leading to a heavy turnover count. Devils Lake would finish with 25 turnovers on the night, eventually leading to the Roughriders outscoring the Firebirds 30-19 in the second half to come back. Klein said those in guard roles are still adjusting to the position, which played a factor in Devils Lake's ball handling. Senior guard Malayna Barendt is still getting back into the swing of things after sitting out the last season due to a knee injury while Brown is adjusting to a new position after playing on the post last season.
"We just have to keep working in practice, and with those younger kids too," Klein said. "We're going to need some minutes out of them at some point, cause someone else might fall out at some point and we're down a guard."
Outside of the spots at guard, the Firebirds' defense played a major role in keeping them up throughout the game. Even when Red River was on the comeback, Devils Lake's press disrupted the Roughriders' offensive flow. The majority of Red River's points came at the line in the second half rather than during play. In the first half, the Firebirds saw a handful of points in transition, eventually amounting to 42 tallies in the half.
The defense is an aspect of what has given this Devils Lake squad, who is still finding new ways to improve its game, so much success early on. A heavy senior class, who had a potential state title taken away from them last season, continues to drive the Firebirds closer and closer to where they left off last season.
"That group of seniors has a drive and have learned somethings from the last few groups that have come through," Klein said. "The winning just keeps snowballing and they know not to quit. The one message I had to them is that tonight was a great win, but we're a long way from March. We know that they [Red River] and Davies can beat us, but we're just taking it one game at a time."
In picking up more and more wins, the bullseye continues to grow on the backs of the Firebirds. However, Klein said that routine is key for his team to continue to charge forward. Devils Lake did have a week and a half off before facing Fargo South on Jan. 16 and are looking to get back into a regular pace once again.
"We just need to keep things consistent and stick to the game plan," Klein said. "We're focused on one game at a time and doing what we do best. We need to continue to work on things in practice and improve our skills. If we find a weakness, we work on it and try to get better, and hopefully, by tournament time we're playing better than we are now."
Devils Lake 61, Grand Forks Red River 59
Devils Lake - 42, 19 - 61
GF Red River - 29, 30 - 59
Devils Lake (7-0) -- Brown 7 2-4 19, Martinson 6 3-3 18, Dahlen 4 2-2 10, Krogfoss 3- 2-5 8, Gourd 1 2-2 4, Barendt 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 11-16 61.
GF Red River (7-3, 7-2) -- Sondrol 3 3-8 18, Page 4 6-9 17, Fosse 2 6-6 10, Azure 3 0-1 6, Schiller 2 2-2 6, Robson 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 17-24 59.
3-pointers: Devils Lake 2 (Martinson 1, Brown 1). GF Red River 4 (Sondrol 3, Page 1).