DISTRICTS: Nelson County upsets Harvey/Wells for championship bid, Four Winds blows past Benson County to title game
The chills outside and thrills inside marched into day two of the District 7 girls basketball tournament as two squads would advance to the championship game and pick up a regional bid along the way. As temperatures dipped down to -30 degrees, the red hot offenses of the Lady Indians and Chargers kept those inside toasty.
After a slower start, No. 1 Four Winds/Minnewaukan would ignite in the second half to rush past No. 5 Benson County, 54-35. Following that game, No. 3 Nelson County would continue its winning ways as it would edge past No. 2 Harvey/Wells County for a thrilling upset win, 46-42, to continue to make history for the first year organization.
Two more games are in the books and four are set for Monday. Two are fighting for a title and four are fighting to punch their tickets to regionals two weeks. Here is a recap of Saturday districts finishes.
Nelson County 46, Harvey/Wells County 42
Nelson County - 13, 7, 17, 9 - 46
Harvey/Wells County - 14, 12, 10 6 - 42
Nelson County -- Emory 6 2-2 14, Baumgarn 3 0-3 11, Johnson 4 0-0 8, Ellingson 2 1-3 8, Lippert 0 0-0 3, Parsley 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 3-7 46
Harvey/Wells County -- McKinven 2 3-6 19, Arnold 3 0-0 9, Raue 3 1-6 7, Keller 1 3-4 5, Vollmer 0 2-8 2. Totals 9 9-24 42.
3-pointers: Nelson County 3 (Lippert 1, Ellingson 1, Baumgarn 1). Harvey/Wells County 5 (McKiven 4, Arnold 1).
The Chargers have known since the district bracket released that if they were to beat Warwick in the first round, the second round was going to be a battle. They had been pushed to the limit in a handful of games this season, but the way the Hornets pushed was different.
In their regular-season meeting on Jan. 12 in Fessenden, it was a back and forth battle that saw Harvey/Wells County walk away with a five-point victory. The loss ended up being only one of two losses for Nelson County on the season, with the Hornets claiming second place in districts seeding.
Early on HWC's press got the best of the Chargers, seeing them chase a lead that began to widen by halftime. Down eight heading back on the court, the Chargers came back to not only tie the game but run out with a lead. As the seconds died down so did the scoring. Junior Hollie Emory would give the Chargers a lift-off of six points before she would foul out, but it was still anyone's game at 44-41.
The Hornet would turn over the ball in the final seconds, having senior Kylee Baumgarn inbound the ball with Hornets stacked in the paint. Well, no one saw junior guard Marit Ellingson escape to center court. Baumgarn would launch the ball, Ellingson would intercept and she would slam the door shut on a layup, sending the Chargers to Monday's championship game with a 46-42 victory.
"It was an up and down game going back and forth, and it what was kind of what we expected," Chargers head coach Gus Kueber said. "It was the same thing in the regular season. It really showed a lot of heart in the girls when we were down five or six points at halftime. Nobody quit, the bench stayed involved and it was really a good game all around."
The collective effort game in and game out is something that Nelson County has taken pride in every game. Late in the game, two of the Chargers' weapons in the post fell into foul trouble. Emory, after going off in the fourth quarter, would foul out and Baumgarn couldn't dive too deep into her defensive game as she had four late.
However, in line with the Chargers' balanced attack, those off the bench were able to fill the void on defense and on the post on both ends. Sophomore Rylan Parsley played a major role in the Chargers bench effort, playing heavy minutes on defense when starters nearing foul trouble had to play with a little more caution.
"Rylan Parsely came off the bench and played a lot of big minutes for us," Kueber said. "We needed a post player to box out and get some rebounds. It really wasn't one person here or there, it was a collective effort. When you see some of our post players go up in foul trouble, our guards know they have to step up a little bit. They all collectively did it."
It was a Lazy Susan effort of sorts for the Chargers as the momentum spun all around the roster throughout the game. One player who stepped out of her defensive role and played a huge key on offense was Ellingson. While she still was a strong guarding presence on the floor, she would hit some huge shots for the Chargers and finish with eight points on the night.
She'd hit a huge 3-ball in Nelson County's comeback in the third quarter to tie the game and would make a layup in the final seconds to put the game out of reach for HWC. While she didn't produce as highly on offense, her impact on the court went beyond the stats.
"When we played Warwick she only had six points and I had a talk with her afterward and I told her to now worry about the points, they'll come and go, but focus on getting the W," Kueber said. "Today she kept her head up, kept taking shots when she was open, and made some big shots when she was out there. She's a clutch player."
While Ellingson has been a part of the Chargers speed press on the floor, Emory has been one of Nelson County's go-tos on the post. Racking up big rebounding and scoring finishes, Emory was a major difference-maker in the fourth quarter to help the Chargers to a win. A defensive change up on HWC's side of the ball saw Emory wide open under the net and capitalize for six points, all with four fouls.
"Finding the basket before I shot really helped me tonight," Emory said. "I was turning and shooting quickly once I had the ball."
Nelson County is Charged up, and there's a special weapon that has been giving them a boost to eight wins in their last nine games: the bench. Some girls might not see heavy playing time, but they are debatably the loudest grouping of people in the gym. The fans credit the bench, the coaches credit the bench and the players credit the bench for being the sixth man of sorts.
"It was a team effort," Emory said. "We all played hard and all wanted it. The bench was loud and it was so good. We all wanted it."
Saturday's finish had Chargers players and fans jumping out of their seats, knowing that they're headed to regionals in two weeks no matter what happens and that they have a shot at a title on Monday. They're taking some time to celebrate, but are preparing for the challenge ahead of them in No. 1 Four Winds/Minnewaukan.
"Regardless of what the polls say, Four Winds is one of the best team's in the state in my opinion," Kueber said. "I know coach Gourd will have them ready to go on Monday we just need to do our best and hand with them the best we can to pull home that district crown."
Four Winds/Minnewaukan 54, Benson County 35
Four Winds/Minnewaukan - 10, 15, 16, 13 - 54
Benson County - 11, 10, 2, 12 - 35
Four Winds/Minnewaukan -- Rainbow 6 10-11 22, Dauphinais 5 3-4 16, Jackson 4 4-9 12, Yankton 0 0-2 3, Cavanaugh 0 1-2 1. Totals 15 18-28 54.
Benson County -- Neppl 3 3-3 15, Tofsrud 1 5-6 7, Neslon 2 2-4 6, Williams 0 0-0 3, Schwanke 0 2-2 2, Maddock 1 0-0 2. Totals 7 12-15 35.
3-pointers: Four Winds/Minnewaukan 2 (Dauphinais 1, Yankton 1). Benson County 3 (Neppl 2, Williams 1).
Jitters were what Lady Indians head coach Sean Gourd described it as. A mix of excitement and nerves that can act as an advantage or a disadvantage to a team. In being a pretty young team and this being their first district game, the "jitters" got the best of the Lady Indians in the first half.
The game hadn't gotten away from Four Winds, but they knew that there was more to their offense than what was showing. At halftime, the Lady Indians took a deep breath, refocused, and suddenly, those jitters were gone as Four Winds/Minnewaukan would emerge from the locker room and drain almost 30 points.
No. 1 Four Winds/Minnewaukan is still a young squad, but every day they are learning more and more about their identity, increasing their depth to an already strong big three. Saturday, the Lady Indians second-half boost propelled them into the championship game, blasting past No. 5 Benson County, 54-35.
"We were a little inexperienced and the jitters got to some of us," Gourd said. "A few of them haven't been in this atmosphere before. The third quarter was big for us, we made some adjustments at halftime and held them to two points, 16 points for us. We executed a little better and ran our offense more, and made them play defense."
The Lady Indians really found their jump on defense as they would limit the Wildcats to just two points in the third quarter. Four Winds' weapons in the post in junior center Ezura Rainbow and junior Mahpiya Jackson came in big, but they also got a lift from junior guard Mallory Yankton, sophomore forward Makeisha Cavanaugh, and off the bench, sophomore guard Natalia Littleghost.
It all goes into the Lady Indians' mission to build and find their identity and now rolling into the district championship game, they believe that their defensive approach has helped them figure that out.
"We're not an up and down team. We're more focused on playing solid defense, which is what we did in the third quarter," Gourd said. "I think that's our rhythm and I'm hoping that carries on into our next games. We're getting that bounce a little more where if someone has an off night there's someone there to pick them up."
One of the Four Winds' defensive key-ins was into junior guard Quinn Neppl. The Wildcats guard has been one of the most dangerous shooters in the region this season and was heating up in the first half with 15 points. In solidifying their defensive performance, the Lady Indians' goal was to limit her in the second half and they did as she did not score for the rest of the game. With Neppl finding a lot of her points off the drive into the paint, Rainbow, and Jackson were key in stopping her.
"She was their main scorer and we wanted to focus on her," Rainbow said. "Sean told me that I needed to stay more in the paint because she was really good at driving. We just picked up our defense."
The second half adjustment was a major one for the Lady Indians, especially for Rainbow. She would balance 11 points from half to half, but found ways to maneuver around the double press that Benson County was putting on her. In the second half, she would shoot 6-6 from the line, turning the Wildcats block against them.
"At the beginning, I wasn't really finishing that much and Sean got on me a little bit about it," Rainbow said. "I was working on that a lot more in practice and how I needed to go up stronger. If you go up strong you either get the point or you get the foul to the line."
A lot of the Lady Indians offensive work was done in the paint as the Wildcats, in the same way that Four Winds was keyed into Neppl, limited junior guard Myona Dauphinais from outside the arc. She managed to drain a 3-ball in the third quarter, but shots, in general, didn't come easy for the guard.
Sitting in a duality role of a shooter and a driver, the paint was open a little more in the first half for her as she would drain eight points from the field. In the second half, she saw a little more of a press, even to the point where she would be knocked down and have to spend some time on the bench after hitting her head on the floor.
"When she attacks the basketball and gets the 3-point that helps, but people are crowding her a little more," Gourd said. "Hopefully, when she gets into the paint and scores she can get into her rhythm a little bit more. She was smart and we switched assignments at halftime and put her on Neppl. We adjusted and it paid off."
The Lady Indians are still looking to Dauphinais, Rainbow, and Jackson to produce consistently, but want to build upon their depth, as they saw Saturday. The scorecard might show three outliers, but the Lady Indians defensive continues to expand and motivating them to grow their defense into bigger games down the stretch.
"We have girls that are accepting their roles and I think that goes a long way," Gourd said. "For some girls, I just want some hustle, defense, rebounding, and effort from the, and if they score it's a bonus. I think they know what I expect of them and it paid off tonight."
Benson County was led off in scoring by Neppl with 15 followed by junior guard McKenna Tofsrud with seven. The Wildcats did hold the edge throughout the majority of the first half off of a hot hand from Neppl, taking a 11-10 lead into the second quarter. Neppl would finish off the first half with a big 3-point play to cut the Wildcats deficit to one.
Benson County will face No. 6 Warwick Monday for a regional bid. The Wildcats squeezed past the Hornets in the regular season, picking up a 56-54 win on the road on Jan. 4.