Betty bound: Four Winds/Minnewaukan punches ticket to Region 4 championship game, defeating Benson County
A week and a half separated the last time the Lady Indians and the Wildcats faced off. Four Winds blew past Benson County 54-34 to eventually win its third straight District 7 title. The Wildcats left that game a different team with a different mindset, and it showed two days later when they drained 79 points against Warwick.
A week off benefitted both teams. The Wildcats were continuing to build upon their confidence in shooting, while Four Winds built upon their defensive strengths and elevated the games of their big 3. Regional quarterfinals saw the Lady Indians hold off an upset from Saint John while the Wildcats would upset Dunseith on the road.
It was yet another meeting between the two squads that would dictate a lot, but the teams that came to the court were very different from two weeks ago. The Wildcats shot hot in the first half and manage to limit the Lady Indians scoring in the paint, seeing them down by only five at halftime. Then things began to click for Four Winds.
The Lady Indians big three in juniors guard Myona Dauphinais, forward Mahpiya Jackson, and center Ezura Rainbow, along with a helping hand from sophomore forward Makeisha Cavanaugh, would dominate the second half, propelling Four Winds to a 59-46 win over Benson County. The semifinals finish punches the Lady Indians ticket to the Region 4 Championship on Feb. 25, where they will face Langdon/Edmore/Munich in Grand Forks.
"That was a damn good win for us," Lady Indians head coach Sean Gourd said. "Benson County has been playing really well lately. They took down Dunsieth Monday and Dunseith was a very good team. It was close in the beginning, but we came out in the third quarter and outscored them by six. Our bench stepped up and gave us some good minutes."
The win was big for the Lady Indians in many ways. Yes, it keeps their season alive, but it continues to power the team's momentum, which is picking up more and more traction as the Lady Indians go deeper into the postseason. Not only are Four Winds' big three getting even stronger, but the starting five finding an overall stable and constant attack.
Specifically, through Cavanaugh, the Lady Indians have found a late-season edge off of the guard. Tuesday was the second straight game that she had broken into double figures in scoring, hitting a clutch 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and going 1-2 in 3-point plays at the line. A lot of teams have keyed in on Rainbow, Jackson, and Dauphinais throughout the season, but Cavanaugh's rise as of late has acted as a "secret weapon" of sorts to the Lady Indians.
"She's fearless," Gourd said. "I don't know if she's too young to realize it, but she attacks and takes with the defense gives her. She gets after it and isn't afraid to shoot. They left her open in that triangle two, and she made them pay for it. That's what we need when teams focus on one, two, or three of our girls. We needed someone to step up and she has."
Cavanaugh's 10 allowed the Lady Indians to move the ball more and allow their big 3 to keep their efforts consistent. Even when the Wildcats had keyed into Rainbow and Jackson in the paint, they did not break. Rainbow would drain 17 points on the night, draining seven from the field.
At times it looked like the Wildcats had solved the pair, who has dominated the paint throughout the region. Rebounds were being picked off by the Wildcats and the battles weren't won easily. The Lady Indians had the height edge in the paint, but Benson County had leaned on its speed to make buckets harder for Jackson and Rainbow.
However, this isn't something new for the duo, especially Rainbow. Throughout the postseason, teams have been all over the guard and have forced her to make adjustments to her game in order to finish. She has been challenged, but every game in the postseason she has found a way to break through and finish big for Four Winds.
"That first half we were 2-10 from the 3-point line, which means we settled for way too many jumpers," Gourd said. "The second we were 2-3 from the 3-point line, which means we made more of an effort to get the ball to her [Rainbow] down low. We just needed to be smarter with the ball and it paid off. They keyed into her and she ended up with 17 again."
While Rainbow has controlled the inside with her height and strength advantage, Jackson has been able to use her height and strength a little further out, to hit deeper shots and clean up when Rainbow maybe double-teamed. The duo, which has been together for three years now, has been a hard one to break for many teams.
Further out, Dauphinais's movement into a guard position has paid off big for Four Winds. Her strengths all around led her to a tied team-high 17 points, draining two 3-pointers and exercising her speed in the paint on the drive. Coming back this season as one of the top 3-point shooters in the state, Dauphinais has rounded her game for the better.
"She's become a very complete player to the point where I match her up against the opponent's best perimeter player," Gourd said. "She's always guarding their best guard on the other end and she always facilitates and shoots when she can. She's a student of the game, I know she studies film, and she asks me questions. It's nice to have another coach out there almost."
While Four Winds comes out of this matchup with an even sharper edge, the Wildcats have shown that they can elevate their game to a new level in a little over a week. Benson County shot heavy from deep throughout the game, draining nine 3's and catching the Lady Indians off guard in the first quarter.
Juniors Hailey Maddock and McKenna Tofsrud were some of the Wildcats' sharper shooters, combining for five 3-pointers on the night. Junior guard Quinn Neppl continued to pace the Wildcats as she would finish with a team-high 11 points in the finish. Benson County may have not scored from 2-point field goal as much, but they have proved to be a consistent 3-point shooting threat over the past three games.
The Wildcats finish their season 16-7, graduating one senior in center Kearyn Nelsen. This may not be the way the Wildcats wanted to end this season, but they are already showing promise for next year, returning all but one player and their leading scorer. Benson County showed immense growth from last season and with a senior-heavy core next year, they can do some serious damage.
As the Wildcats head west back to Leeds, the Lady Indians are heading east for a game they've played in the past three seasons, facing the same team they've played in the past two seasons, but not in the same exact place. Four Winds will be under bigger lights than the Sports Center at Devils Lake High School at Betty Sioux Englestad Arena. It's exciting to play on the big stage, but there is some concern that it may be a little too much to start off.
"The stakes are a little higher, but we've played Langdon before," Gourd said. "We gotta keep that mindset on the floor and focus on each other. I think we're ready for it. It was nice to have this tournament atmosphere at home and we responded well to it. We've had a couple of slow starts, but we're ready and we want it."
The line between the Lady Indians and Cardinals is thin. Both teams are playing at a high standard and have no signs of stopping. Four Winds has the slight edge of the Cardinals, defeating them in the regular season 61-54. However, L/E/M has just about blown through everyone else. They topped Nelson County 46-30 to get to the championship game and prior to that blew past New Rockford-Sheyenne 44-23.
The regional title has been something that has been so close yet so far for the Lady Indians for the past couple of years. his season, an odd one at that, has given them yet another chance to grab it.
"We just gotta keep our turnovers low, box out, limit them to one shot, contest, and be smart," Gourd said. "They're definitely going to come after us and pressure us a little more. If we play hard, we'll get it. We just gotta play our game."
Four Winds/Minnewaukan 59, Benson County 46
Four Winds/Minnewaukan - 14, 13, 18, 14 - 59
Benson County - 13, 9, 12, 12 - 46
Four Winds/Minnewaukan -- Dauphinais 4 3-4 17, Rainbow 7 3-3 17, Jackson 3 2-4 11, Cavanaugh 3 1-2 10, Yankton 2 0-0 4. Totals 19 9-13 59.
Benson County -- Neppl 4 0-0 11, Maddock 2 0-0 10, Tofsrud 0 0-2 9, Schwanke 1 0-0 8, Neslon 2 1-2 5, Williams 0 0-0 3. Totals 9 1-4 46.
3-pointers: Four Winds/Minnewaukan 4 (Dauphinais 2, Jackson 1, Cavanaugh 1). Benson County 9 (Tofsrud 3, Schwanke 2, Maddock 2, Neppl 1, Williams 1).