DISTRICTS: Dakota Prairie full effort boost them past rival Lakota, NR-S exercises offense in win over Warwick

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
New Rockford-Sheyenne and Dakota Prairie both picked up wins on the first day of the District 7 boys basketball tournament on Feb. 26 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School. Benson County lost to Harvey/Wells County and Lakota lost to the Knights.

After spending the past few weeks cheering on the girls' teams from the stands, it's the boys' turn to take the court for the postseason, opening up district tournaments on Friday. Six of seven area squads kicked off district play today, with all of them hoping to be the one heading to Minot at the end of March.

Benson County was edged out by Harvey/Wells County in game one while New Rockford-Sheyenne blasted past Warwick and Dakota Prairie bested Lakota. With one day on play in the books, here's a recap of Friday's quarterfinal action. 

Harvey Wells/County 60, Benson County 55

Harvey/Wells County - 17, 13, 12, 18 - 60 

Benson County - 15, 13, 16, 11 - 55

Harvey/Wells County -- Erickson 11 5-6 27, T. Grossman 6 4-4 16, Tipton 4 0-0 11, T. Grossman 1 0-0 2, Monge 1 0-1 2, Fike 1 0-0 2. Totals 24 9-12 60. 

Benson County -- Anderson 7 1-3 21, Bisbee 1 0-0 14, Fischer 3 4-8 10, Wentz 4 0-0 8, Olson 1 0-0 2. 16 5-12 55. 

3-pointers: Harvey/Wells County 1 (Tipton 1). Benson County 6 (Bisbee 4, Anderson 2). 

The No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup has the odds out of any of the games to go either way. Both squads are extremely close talent-wise and finished the season separated by one or two games. In these games, it takes just the right combination to squeeze out a win. 

It was back and forth between Benson County and Harvey/Wells County (HWC) in the first game of the District 7 Tournament. Momentum swung both ways throughout before the Hornets push narrowly ahead in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats were right there but struggled to get the stops they needed to push a tie or a lead.

The Hornets would take advantage of their height on the post, seeing 6-foot-3-inch Alex Erickson and 6-foot-5-inch Tanner Grossman combine for 43 points as HWC would advance to district semifinals in a 60-55 win over the Wildcats. 

"We worked hard tonight," Wildcats head coach Dustin Paulson said. "We were there on offense to defense, but we just gave up too many rebounds. That cost us the game."

HWC posted a heavy height advantage over the Wildcats, bringing seven players all over six feet to the court. While they were strong on the defensive rebound, they found more of their points off of offensive scores. Grossman and Erickson were all over the putbacks and in some cases would lift the ball over Wildcats defenders on the post. 

However, Benson County was in the driver's seat for the majority of the second half, leaving HWC scrambling. Senior Blayne Anderson came in big once again for the Wildcats, scoring a team-high 21 points. Even under pressure, he was able to convert and found more even more options to score through his teammates. 

Freshman Charles Bisbee has a big night for Benson County, shooting heavy from 3-point range with a team-high four treys to add to his overall total of 14 on the night. Senior John Fischer was a force in the post and on the line, finishing with 10 points on 4-8 shooting from the charity stripe. Paulson said the Wildcats didn't play an overall bad game but need to clean up the rebounding.

"It doesn't matter if a guy is seven feet tall or 5'10, if you get low, put your butt into him, and box him out you'll get the ball. That's what we need to do and we didn't do it," Paulson said. "Our offensive production was good in this game. We got more guys to score some points, but we got to stop them on defense." 

Free throw shooting is something the Wildcats are looking to improve on going into their next matchup against the loser of Saturday's matchup against New Rockford-Sheyenne and Benson County on Monday. Benson County went 5-12 from the free-throw line, making up the scoring difference.

Facing either the Rockets or the Knights for a regional bid, the Wildcats went 1-1 against each squad this season, losing to NR-S 56-40 and defeating Dakota Prairie 55-42 towards the end of the regular season. If Benson County balances out its attack, they have a higher chance of continuing their season. 

"Our defense wasn't all that bad but when you give up 15, 20 points off of offensive rebounds that's where the game is won or lost," Paulson said. "If we get the ball off the boards we're going to get more opportunities on offense." 

New Rockford-Sheyenne 63, Warwick 53 

New Rockford-Sheyenne - 23, 16, 20, 4 - 63

Warwick - 5, 10, 16, 22 - 53

New Rockford-Sheyenne -- Ulrich 4 6-7 23, Berglund 5 2-2 15, Grann 4 0-0 14, Walford 0 3-4 6, Jensen 2 0-0 4, Johnson 0 1-2 1. Totals 15 12-18. 

Warwick -- Hill 9 4-6 28, Fassett 5 1-2 11, Bigtrack 0 0-0 6, McKay 1 0-0 5, Lenior 1 1-2 3. Totals 16 6-10 53. 

3-pointers: New Rockford-Sheyenne 7 (Ulrich 3, Grann 2, Berglund 1, Walford 1). Warwick 5 (Hill 2, Bigtrack 2, McKay 1). 

New Rockford-Sheyenne and Dakota Prairie both picked up wins on the first day of the District 7 boys basketball tournament on Feb. 26 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School. Benson County lost to Harvey/Wells County and Lakota lost to the Knights.

Getting rest during the postseason is a rarity. Having to play for almost three days straight during districts, there's little to no downtime. However, most teams are striving for that go, go, go feeling because it means that they are getting closer and closer to a state title.

For New Rockford-Sheyenne, its starting five have been putting in some heavy minutes this season and they are looking to preserve them as they go deeper into the season. The best way to do that: getting off to a hot start. Drawing Warwick in the first round, the lowest matchup in quarterfinals, the Rockets knew that they had a rare opportunity to rest their weapons if they pumped the score early. 

Outscoring the Warriors 39-15 by halftime, New Rockford-Sheyenne was not only able to pump its offense but expand it as well as a built-up early lead would give them the green light into semifinals, defeating Warwick 63-53. 

"We wanted to get out to a fast start to get some guys some rest and our offense was clicking early, which was nice," Rockets head coach Tyler Cook said. 

NR-S wanted to get the scoring early, but they also wanted to try and play a faster game on the ground, something the team isn't too used to, having a lot of their game based on height. It was a little bit of a rocky start as NR-S did fumble the ball out of bounds, moving a little too quick on the fast break, but found connections as the game progressed. 

"We just knew that we needed to play sharper, get everyone involved and get everyone together," senior center Evan Ulrich said. "It gets to be a long season and we can't be turning on each other." 

Once the Rockets got moving, it was hard to stop them. Ulrich would lead the scoring charge with 23 on the night, testing his offensive game from deep to shoot down three 3's to compliment seven shots from 2-point field goal range. Junior foward Nick Berglund was another player who was able to expand his game beyond the post, draining 15 points, coming more off of jumpers and less off the boards. 

New Rockford-Sheyenne and Dakota Prairie both picked up wins on the first day of the District 7 boys basketball tournament on Feb. 26 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School. Benson County lost to Harvey/Wells County and Lakota lost to the Knights.

"They put a bigger guy on him [Berglund] tonight, so we put him out on the perimeter and he did a pretty good job out there not settling for 3's, but hitting that mid-range shot," Cook said. "He got some nice shots off tonight." 

The Rockets were able to sharpen two edges of their sword against Warwick, something a lot of teams can do at all in postseason games. After working with a newer offense in the first half, Cook called off the starters in the second half and got the bench involved later on in the game. It wasn't the smoothest transition as NR-S was outscored 22-4 in the fourth quarter, but allowed players like senior guard Koven Walford to expand their game. He would finish with six points off a 3-pointer and 3-4 shooting from the line.

"It wasn't the prettiest, but we still ended with a win," Ulrich said. "It's good to keep our legs for tomorrow because it's going to be a big test for us." 

"Saving legs" is the biggest advantage for the Rockets heading into their next match-up, which will be against Dakota Prairie. Having the advantage to rest their starters throughout the game is the closest thing that NR-S can get to a BYE without actually getting one. Players in Ulrich, Berglund, senior guard Johnny Grann, junior guard Kaden Jensen and senior forward Hunter Johnson might be more active than starters across the court.

Their next game against the Knights brings forward an interesting rematch. In their last meeting on Jan. 15 in a 64-34 NR-S win, two halves really told the story. Dakota Prairie had a narrow edge at halftime before the Rockets took over for the win. With the Knights starting to round out their game and the Rockets coming to the court refreshed, Saturday's matchup could be very different from the meeting a little over a month ago.

"Cade Stein is a very good player for them and he can go off any night for them, so we have to concentrate on taking him away," Cook said. "Tonight we wanted to get off to a fast start so we could give our guys some rest because they've logged a lot of minutes in some tight games. Getting that early lead really helped us tonight."

Dakota Prairie 61, Lakota 49 

Dakota Prairie - 15. 18, 9, 19 - 61 

Lakota - 15, 9, 8, 17 - 49 

Dakota Prairie -- Syverson 7 2-3 16, Stein 0 7-9 15, Hanson 1 1-2 15, Lenz 1 1-2 6, Haakenson 1 0-0 5, Jorde 1 0-2 4. Totals 12 11-18 61 

Lakota -- Ferguson 8 2-4 18, Baumgarn 2 0-0 7, R. Steffan 0 0-0 6, Thompson 3 0-0 6, J. Steffan 2 1-1 5, Hendrickson 0 4-6 4, Gibson 0 0-0 3. Totals 15 7-11 49. 

3-pointers: Dakota Priaire 8 (Hanson 4, Stein 2, Lenz 1, Haakenson 1). Lakota 4 (R. Steffan 2, Baumgarn 1, Gibson 1)

New Rockford-Sheyenne and Dakota Prairie both picked up wins on the first day of the District 7 boys basketball tournament on Feb. 26 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School. Benson County lost to Harvey/Wells County and Lakota lost to the Knights.

For a young Dakota Priaire squad, this season has been a lot about growth and finding stability in their game. Earlier in the season, the Knights had pieced together strong games but didn't really have a complete finish. Now entering the postseason, Dakota Prairie is right where they want to be.  

Not only did they have a complete finish, up and down the roster and buzzer to buzzer, but they had fun doing it along the way. Opening up districts, the Knights faced county rival Lakota, with NR-S, who was sitting on the stage watching the game, waiting for them in semifinals. And early on, the Nelson County rivalry was living up to the hype. 

The Raiders swung hard early on and were up on the Knights by six at one point. However, according to junior guard Cade Stein, it's nothing they haven't seen before from playing Lakota. The early run was something the Knights had expected from the Raiders and were able to recover and take charge.

Dakota Prairie found its edge off of a full offensive effort, moving the ball off of their top scorer in Stein to get the entire roster involved in the scoring. The collaborative effort would not only strengthen the young Knights game but would boost them into semifinals, defeating Lakota 61-49. 

"It was a pretty impressive and pretty exciting game for us," Knights head coach Thomas Trostad said. "It was fun to watch other kids like Blake Hanson hit some shots. They tried to stop Cade as much as they could. Syverson, our big guy played well down low. It was a really fun way to get our first win of the tournament like that."

Having the scoring weight being taken off Stein was huge for the Knights as they saw more options arise throughout the game. Senior guard Blake Hanson found his edge off the 3-ball as he would shoot down a team high four 3's for 15 points on the night. Junior center Garrett Syverson worked the post throughout as he would drain a team-high 16 points in the finish, draining seven shots from 2-point field goal range.

Stein was still very much involved in the scoring charge for Dakota Prairie, tying Hanson in the point category with 15 on the night. It was a collaborative effort for Knights and it's what they've been pushing for throughout the season. Having some knowledge in playing Lakota so much help, but expanding the offense was key in the victory.

"Getting more guys scoring has helped me a lot because I don't have to do everything," Stein said. "It's nice to have my teammates around me to help me out. It's taken a lot of pressure off of me. Guys are stepping up and realizing that it doesn't have to be me all the time. It's nice to have them by my side helping me." 

Stein has been a constant throughout the season, but Syverson has also been there throughout the season as a dependable on the post. Against the Raiders, the center was looking to jam at the right time but didn't find the opening. Nevertheless, Syverson's height advantage along the baseline has only given the Knights another area to expand their offense from.

New Rockford-Sheyenne and Dakota Prairie both picked up wins on the first day of the District 7 boys basketball tournament on Feb. 26 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School. Benson County lost to Harvey/Wells County and Lakota lost to the Knights.

"We know when he gets it it's not a black hole," Trostad said. "He's going to make a nice move and will even just go straight up and put it in. He's huge and makes a big difference for us down there. He's come a long way from last season and has become very comfortable in the lane and on the block." 

Friday's game was not just a strong game for the Knights regulars but saw a handful of players begin to come out of their shells at the right time. Hanson's shooting performance was a huge spark for Dakota Prairie late in the season and the Knights saw big defensive performances from senior forward Mason Lenz and junior guard Garrett Haakenson. 

Things are clicking at the right time for the Knights, now being able to move the offense a little more off Stein and deeper into their roster. The growth is going to be put to the test Saturday against New Rockford-Sheyenne, a team that is well-rested and has picked up a win over the Knights this season. However, unlike the last meeting, Dakota Prairie believes that they are playing more complete games than they were a month ago. 

"We've begun to put full games together," Trostad said. "At the beginning of the year, we were a really good first-half team, but that third quarter really got us down. Tonight we had a really good first quarter and we have to get ready for a New Rockford team that's has a lot of big guys that can shoot. We just have to get ready for a big trap and big pressure, and be calm and patient." 

Not only do the Knights feel that they are playing a complete game, but they're playing an overall different one as well from their last meeting with the Rockets. With the expansion of the offense against Lakota, Dakota Prairie believes they have an edge in the unpredictability they bring to the court. 

"I feel like New Rockford picked up on what we were doing in the second half of that game, so we're going to switch it up a little more," Stein said. "We're going to get new things going and hopefully that will work out. I feel like now we're playing at our full potential. We're definitely better than we were the last time we saw them."  

In the loss, Lakota jumps down to the consolation bracket and will face Warwick to move onto the regional bid game, which will be against Four Winds/Minnewaukan or Harvey/Wells County on Monday. The Raiders saw an impressive performance from senior forward Brandt Ferguson, downing 18 points and driving Lakota out to that early lead. 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, or on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.