Eagles press too much as No. 3 Fargo Davies hands No. 2 Devils Lake first regular season loss since 2019
In the few times this season the game has come down to the final seconds for the Firebirds, the ball has always fallen in their favor.
Against Grand Forks Red River, senior Karli Krogfoss' layup would two seconds left would be enough to boost the Firebirds to a win over the Raiders. Against West Fargo, senior forward Jailyn Martinson's 3-point buzzer-beater would allow the Firebirds to escape an upset from the Packers.
When it comes down to crunch time, the odds have been in Devils Lake's favor. Thursday night against No. 3 Fargo Davies, it was coming down to the wire once again. After a defensive adjustment out of halftime, the Eagles and Firebirds were jabbing back and forth for a lead. With 30 seconds left in the game, Gourd would put back a missed 3 to pull the Firebirds within one of a tie.
Calling a timeout, they knew they needed a defensive stop and could take over from there. However, the entire night the Eagles' strength on both ends of the court had been hard to stop. Devils Lake did have a better hold of it in the second half, but Davies' muscle had become too much, leading Kyia McLaurin to hook in a shot to put the Eagles up seven with 13 seconds left.
The sense of doubt wasn't too heightened as they had finished twice before and felt like they could do it again. They needed a 3, something that they had struggled to spark all night, but they were going to try. With no room to shoot outside the arc, senior Rachel Dahlen would throw up a shot from inside the paint that would clink right and allow Davies to control the rebound to the buzzer.
It was a game of firsts, but not the ones that the Firebirds had wanted. It was the first time this season that Devils Lake (12-1) didn't pull it out in the final minute, and it was the Firebirds first regular-season loss since 2019, falling to No. 3 Fargo Davies (15-1, 14-1), 67-64. Since 2018, the Firebirds have lost four games, and three of those have been to the Eagles.
"I liked our second half, but we didn't do a very good job on defense. That was my main concern," Firebirds head coach Justin Klein said. "We gave up 36 points in the first half which is way too many. I thought we got beat up a little. They [Davies] played tough and it was a battle, but we did a nice job coming back and we had a chance to get a shot up but we couldn't."
Despite one-shot falling short, the Firebirds' approach to the Eagles press going into the second half allowed them to jump back into a game that was looking like Davies was going to run away with. The turnovers would be to pile up for the Firebirds in the first half and struggled to get shots up and in.
After a score off a turnover and 2-2 shooting at the line from Davies to go up 14, the Firebirds would turn on the burners. Devils Lake would open up the second half to go on a 19-2 run to not only pull themselves back into the game but take a 53-50 lead.
"We had a few personnel adjustments, but the biggest thing there was getting the ball up the court and getting our outlets going," Klein said. "In the first half our outlets were waiting a little too much in the backcourt and in the second half we were able to look down the court."
Sparking the Firebirds offense were two players who bring strength, speed and scoring to the court every night, which is what Devils Lake needed to get ahead: Martinson and Gourd. Martinson's consistent cut and score to the net saw her finish atop of the scoring column with 21 points, dropping 12 in the first half. Gourd, who is on a hot rebounding streak, would grind out 15 points in the paint, dropping 10 in the second half.
"They were huge for us," Klein said. "Gourd's been really good lately and did a nice job rebounding too. Jailyn did a nice job on top of the zone and helped us get back in and get some steals."
Gourd and Martinson were key in the Firebirds comeback effort and took the brunt of the Eagles' aggressive push on both sides of the ball. Thursday's game was where the Devils Lake saw the most aggression from an opponent, but Klein said that West Fargo and West Fargo Sheyenne were other opponents who made them fight for possession.
"We're a speed team and up-tempo, so we're not going to bang you and we aren't strong physically, but we have some size," Klein said. "They [Davies] exploited that tonight."
Since their last meeting where the Firebirds won by eight in Fargo, from Klein's perspective, the Eagles have improved. Devils Lake did execute their plan the way they wanted it to but just couldn't get that extra edge. One of the facets of the game that didn't play the biggest role, but has an impact, in the end, was 3-point shooting.
It's been one of the few weaknesses the Firebirds squad is trying to deal with after losing their go-to shooter in the first game of the season. Along with being down, Jadyn Frelich, who has begun to step into that role, the outside shots just didn't fall for the Firebirds. It's something that the Firebirds have been working all season to up and Klein said it is something that they're just going to continue in practice.
"Outside shooting is a big thing we need to work on," Klein said. "We just need to do those drills in practice and get those shots up. We need to keep mixing up players at that shot and try to rotate our players as much as we can to get into that. That's just how it goes."
The Firebirds are looking to touch up some things before heading into the rest of their regular-season schedule, which is all on the road. They aren't hanging their heads about their performance on the court, as the opportunity to win wasn't gone until the final buzzer. It's another game where Davis foils the Firebirds' original plan.
Last season, the Eagles prevented the Firebirds from winning an EDC title and in 2019, Davies spoiled a perfect regular season for Devils Lake. This time around, the Eagles have now tied the Firebirds for first in the EDC, creating chaos seeding wise. Devils Lake is still trying to keep a play-in game at home and will have four-games away from the Sports Center to try and do that. Their biggest challenge comes against Grand Forks Red River in the regular-season finale.
However, one of the biggest things that come out of this game is keeping the mentality and fight up after a loss. Losing is once in a blue moon for the Firebirds as their success outweighs their downfalls over the past three seasons. There's interest in how the team will approach practice Friday after a rare loss and hope that it will have no effect on them.
"It's going to be interesting to see what kids come back on this," Klein said. "These kids don't lose a lot and they know how to win. Down the stretch, I thought we were going to pull this one out, but when you make mistakes like that and don't convert, you're not going to pull those out. Let's just hope the leaders, Brown and Martinson, come back and get the kids ready to go."
Fargo Davies 67, Devils Lake 64
Fargo Davies - 46, 21 - 67
Devils Lake - 34, 30 - 64
Fargo Davies (15-1, 14-1) -- Wacha 8 3-4 25, Wild 4 4-8 12, Koenig 5 0-0 10, Safranski 3 0-0 6, Fey 1 1-2 5, Burian 1 2-2 4, Safranski 0 0-0 3, Selensky 1 0-0 2. Totals 24 10-16 67.
Devils Lake (12-1) -- Martinson 9 3-4 21, Gourd 5 5-7 15, Brown 3 4-4 10, Dahlen 3 1-1 7, Krogfoss 1 1-2 3, Fritel 1 1-2 3, Frelich 0 0-0 3, Barendt 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 15-20 64.
3-pointers: Fargo Davies 3 (Wacha 2, Safranski 1). Devils Lake 1 (Frelich 1).