DISTRICTS: Four Winds, New Rockford-Sheyenne power into title game, Lakota avoids elimination
There wasn't an empty seat throughout the entire gym at New Rockford-Sheyenne Public School on Friday as six different teams, and one prospecting team, filled in and out of the gym for District 7 boys basketball semifinals. Two matchups would decide who was moving on to Monday's title game while the third would dictate who was going home and who was moving on to Monday.
Lakota avoided elimination the first game, rolling off of a hot start to defeat Warwick and face Harvey/Wells County for a regional bid. The second game saw top-seeded Four Winds/Minnewaukan blast past Harvey/Wells County, heading to their ninth straight district title game. Host, New Rockford-Sheyenne, rounded out the night with a quick start and control of the post to defeat Dakota Prairie to head to their fourth straight title game.
As the bracket fills out and the district tournament nears its final day, four teams will be fighting to keep their seasons alive while two battle it out for a district crown. Here's a recap of how they got there.
Lakota 70, Warwick 62
Lakota - 29, 9, 17, 15 - 70
Warwick - 15, 8, 20, 19 - 62
Lakota -- Ferguson 9 1-4 17, Thompson 7 1-4 15, Hendrickson 4 4-9 12, Gibson 2 5-10 9, Baumgarn 1 3-4 8, R. Steffan 2 0-0 7, J. Steffan 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 14-31 70.
Warwick -- Fassett 6 8-8 35, Hill 5 2-5 15, Bigtrack 1 0-0 5, Lenior 2 0-0 4, McKay 0 0-0 3. Totals 14 10-16 62.
3-pointers: Lakota 2 (R. Steffan 1, Baumgarn 1). Warwick 8 (Fassett 5, Hill 1, Bigtrack 1 McKay 1).
Things have been on the upswing for the Raiders in the postseason lately. In 2019, Lakota went 0-2 in the District tournament, ending their season. These past two years, the Raiders' chances of the regional berth have been getting higher and higher as they have won their first play-in game in the tournament to keep their season alive.
Last season, the Raiders topped Harvey/Wells County (HWC) by five to advance to the final stage of play-in games, eventually getting knocked out by rival Dakota Prairie. Saturday, after losing to Dakota Prairie in quarterfinals, Lakota was down, but not yet out. Playing in the first round of play-ins, was a situation the Raiders had seen so many times before and knew just how to execute.
An almost 30 point first quarter, sparked by another hot start from senior forward Brandt Ferguson, would keep Lakota's regional dreams alive as they would defeat Warwick, 70-62, to advance to the final round of play-in games facing off against HWC. The Raiders fell off a bit in the fourth quarter but according to head coach Tyson Ackerman, his squad maintained a balanced attack throughout the entire game.
"We executed well tonight," Ackerman said. "We built our lead our early. Our team runs as our defense runs and if we can't turn our defense into offense, we struggle to score. Being a young team going into the third day of districts is a big goal for us. We're one win away from regionals. We play Harvey and earlier this season they gave it to us there, so we'll have to have a different game plan against Monday."
Saturday was the second straight game where Ferguson would catch the opposition sleeping early and take advantage of it. Against Dakota Prairie on Friday, he would lead Lakota out to an early lead before the Knights would eventually catch up. Against the Warriors, the forward would continue to drive and score, eventually amounting to 12 points by the end of the first quarter.
"I'm just trying to get the ball to open people and drive to the rim on a team like this where we're a little bit quicker than," Ferguson said. "It gets things rolling right away."
While he would end up cooling off towards the end of the game, finishing with 17 on the night, the early lead gave the Raiders some room the breathe and hold off Warwick's hot hand in sophomore guard Mark Fassett. Lakota managed to hold the guard off for three quarters, seeing most of his conversions come at the line but saw him spring for 19 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with an overall game-high of 35, almost completing a comeback for Warwick.
Warwick keyed heavy into Ferguson as the game went on, but that allowed others to step up and build upon Lakota's lead. Freshman forward Ross Thompson continues to be a threat to the opposition as he would step in a score for the Raiders, downing nine of those points in the second half. Senior center Cole Hendrickson played a major role in paint, finishing with 12 points and getting some of Warwick's weapons into foul trouble along the way.
"The stats might not show it this year, but Cole Hendrickson is making an effort," Ackerman said. "He's making those free throws, tipping those balls that turn into offensive rebounds, and, defensively, he's gotta guard the big guy every night, and he doesn't complain. He's getting to know his role on this offense a lot better. He's smart enough to know where he needs to be in order for us to win games."
One of the biggest improvements the Raiders are seeing is holding a lead in a late-game situation. Fassett was becoming a threat as the game went on and Lakota was able to find its edge at the free-throw line in order to finish out. They would shoot 9-18 in the fourth quarter, which was one point more than the Raiders' margin of victory, holding down the lead for the win.
"We just had to play together as a team," Ferguson said. "A lot of times when we got into late-game situations this year we pushed it when we didn't need to. Today we sat back, waited for a good shot and it ended up working out."
Things continue to improve for Lakota as the season's come and go. Ackerman said that the senior class can tell that they are about to get over a hump as they continue to move forward. The Raiders face a challenge ahead of them on Monday in the Hornets, who beat Lakota by 29 in their only meeting this season. HWC escaped an upset from Benson County in quarterfinals but was ousted by Four Winds in semifinals.
It's going to be a different game plan in taking on the Hornets, but the same ethics of hard work and defensive reliance come into play from the win over Warwick. Lakota tips-off against HWC on Monday at 4 p.m.
"It's going to be the same thing about effort, controlling rebounds, making free throws, and running our sets on offense," Ackerman said. "When we're running our sets, we get the shots we want anytime with our offense."
Four Winds/Minnewaukan 76, Harvey/Wells County 51
Four Winds/Minnewaukan - 25, 23, 18, 10 - 76
Harvey/Wells County - 14, 11, 16, 10 - 51
Four Winds/Minnewaukan -- Shaw 6 0-1 18, Walter 9 0-0 18, Yankton 5 0-0 16, Jackson 4 0-0 8, Deng 4 0-0 8, Lohnes 1 0-0 2, Keja 1 0-0 2. Totals 30 1-3 76.
Harvey/Wells County -- Erickson 3 7-9 13, Thorson 3 2-2 11, T. Grossman 2 2-2 6, Monge 2 2-2 6, Fike 1 0-0 5, Tipton 2 1-1 5, T. Grossman 2 0-1 4, Kellere 0 1-4 1. Totals 15 15-21 51.
3-pointers: Four Winds/Minnewaukan 5 (Shaw 2, Yankton 2, Jackson 1). Harvey/Wells County 2 (Fike 1, Thorson 1).
It's been a very long time since the Indians have lost their game first game of the district tournament...and Saturday's matchup wasn't an exception to that. Like they have for the majority of district play, the Indians ran a fast offense that would supplement fueled by an aggressive press allowing them to go up big early.
Everywhere the Hornets would turn, there was a Four Winds player there and if they were able to break past the Indians press, they would have to get past 6-foot-10-inch senior center Bronson Walter to finish. Harvey/Wells County does have a height advantage, but it wasn't enough to solve Walter. Not only did the senior player a major role on defense, but would drain his 1000th career point, finishing off with a team tying high 18 points.
There were some adjustments that the Indians are wanting to make in the buzzer to buzzer defense, but their efforts overall woudl allow them to blow past HWC, 76-51, continuing their domination in district play into another title game.
"I thought we weren't as agressive as we usually are," Indians head coach Rick Smith said. "We weren't where we needed to be in those passing lanes, espcially on the weak side, and we have to tighten that up. Offensivly, we were ok. We had a stretch in the third quarter where our intensity picked up and our bench played well."
The depth of the Indians is what has made the sqaud so dangerious thoughout the season. Four Winds has seven guys in its cycle that have the ability to put up double figures on any given night. Satuday saw Four Winds continue to devlope on their eight and nine men in freshman forward Deng Deng and junior guard Jacolby Pearson.
The duo was activated early on in the game by Smith as the Indians were able to build a double digit lead off of its starting five early. Deng would find his scoring edge in the pain, finishing with eight points on the night. Person, while he didn't find the score sheet, leaned heavy into playmaking outside of the arc throughout the night. The devlopement of Deng and Person is huge for the Indians as allows them to keep starters fresh and move down the line when others may not be as hot.
"There devlopement is importnat because were getting into a stretch where we're playign games one after another," Smith said. "Pearson and Deng are ready to go. They've had a nice year and have gotten a lot of playing time on JV and varsity, so I have all the confidence in the world in those guys. They know what they're doing out there and bring a different demension out there with their long arms."
The bench was emptyed later in the fourth quarter, allowing the rarety of starters to rest and others to get postseason minutets. However, by the time that had happened, the regular cycle had already done its damage. Walter's game in the post was balanced out by the fast break of senior guard JaeShaun Shaw, who matched Walter's tally with 18 of his own, shooting six 2-point field goals and two 3-pointers. Junior Jayden Yankton would follow closely with 16, adding two treys to his overall tally.
Among all the scoring, one layup in the third quarter by Walter was a little more special than the others. Smith would call a timeout and allow Walter's temmates to congratulate him on the milestone, but from there it was back to work. Walter said he was looking forward to the milestone, and wanted to get it, but the overall focus was on the game.
"It's a great feeling to get here," Walter said. "I've been excited and anxious for this. I was just looking forwared to winning the game, and it was on my mind. When it happened I wanted to start jumping, but I stayed cool."
Walter is the second Indian this season to cross the 1,000 point marker as Yankton had passed it against Rugby on Feb. 9. According to Smith, there is one other player that the Indians are looking to move over that 1,000 point marker by the end of the season. The first cousins who now combine for over 2,000 career points have stood as the scoring balance threat that the Indians bring to the court, inside and outside the arc.
"They both been playing a long time and it's good to see that they both are able to pass that mileston," Smith said. "It's a personal award and I know they are happy to recieve that, but I know if you ask them, they want the team trophy."
The Indians continue thier drive to their overall goal Monday, facing a New Rockford-Sheyenne squad that has really been there only challenge in district play. The Rockets played the Indians close for three quarters before Four Winds would fire up in the fourth quarter. The Rockets bring a height advantage to the court, speicfically 6-foot-7-inch senior center Evan Ulrich, who will most likely matchup against Walter. However, the drive of Indians continues to remain strong and are ready to execute their game.
"It means everything to get back to state for us," Walter said. "We put in the countless hours in and we've been looking forward to this moments since the beginning of the season. The key for us is to pose the game out and get the W. That's all that matters."
New Rockford-Sheyenne 75, Dakota Prairie 66
New Rockford-Sheyenne - 24, 17, 16, 18 - 75
Dakota Priaire - 14, 15, 13, 24 - 66
New Rockford-Sheyenne -- Ulrich 8 5-9 27, Grann 5 1-2 23, Berglund 5 3-5 13, Jensen 2 3-4 7, Johnson 2 0-0 4, Duda 0 1-2 1. Totals 22 13-23 75.
Dakota Prairie -- Haakenson 2 0-0 19, Hanson 0 0-0 15, Syverson 4 4-4 12, Stein 2 0-0 10, Lenz 4 2-2 10. Totals 12 6-6 66.
3-pointers: New Rockford-Sheyenne 6 (Grann 4, Ulrich 2). Dakota Priaire 12 (Haakenson 5, Hanson 5, Stein 2).
Satuday night's finale was lining up to be one of the more intresting matchups of the tournament between New Rockford-Sheyenne (NR-S) and Dakota Priaire. The last time these two had met, both teams played two strong halves, but not at the same time.
The Knights would keep pace with the Rockets before going cold and eventaully hading NR-S the win. However, Dakota Priaire had begun balancing its games and expanding its offense as of late. The Rockets continued to heat up and roll off of its size advantage, adding a speed element into their transistion game late in the season.
The two squads were heating up at the same time and something had to give between the two. In the end, it was New Rockford-Sheyenne's big men in senior center Evan Ulrich and senior guard Johnny Grann that would end up controling the game, comibining for 50 points as the Rockets would blast past the Knights into the district title game, 75-66.
"We got off to a hot start again and played well on the defensive end," Rockets head coach Tyler Cook said. "That eventually led to us getting some easy buckets down low."
Ulrich and Berglund controlled the paint for the Rockets as the duo was capatzling at the rim and on second chance opportunites. UIrich had eight field goals from close and when he didn't finish at the net, he would clean up at the line, shooting 5-9 from the charity stripe. Berglund would barrell through the paint for 13 points on the night, draining five field goals from close.
While Ulrich and Berglund both offer a height factor to the game, there are aspects within that that seperate their games. Ulrich's reach allows him to get easy layups, even against opponents like 6-foot-4-inch Dakota Priaire junior center Garrett Syverson. Berglund, while he might not be putting up the same scoring numbers, has used his streght to his advantage in finishing at the net.
"Evan is our go to guy and he does great on both ends every night," Cook said. "Berglund doesn't get the credit a lot of the times becuase he's our dirty work guy, but he's a player you love as a coach because he's does everything you ask for him."
On offense, Grann would get back into a 3-point shooting quick, draining a team high four treys. His shooting performance from outside the arc played a major role into the finish as his talley helped keep pace with Dakota Priaire's shooters, who combined for 12 3-pointers on the night.
The Rockets have been also working to speed up their tranisition game, which may come in handy against Four Winds in the title game. Cook said the speed up of the tranisition game has really allowed NR-S to get an early jump on teams not just on layups, but 3-point shots as well. The Rockets are trying out a few new things in this tournament and they all seem to be working, including a odd free throw shooting technique from junior guard Kaden Jensen.
"All year he's been struggling from the free throw line, and he's missed from everywhere execept from the right," Cook said. "We watched film on it over and over again, and in practice yesterday I thought we would try something different. He shot pretty well in practice right off of center, so he though he'd try it tonight and he shot pretty well.
Jensen would head to the line twice on the night, shooting 3-4.
Getting a hot start and moving quick in transition is something the Rockets have had time to get comfotable with in their first two games of districts, and it'll be put to the test Monday against the Indians. In facing Four Winds so many times before, NR-S know that they need to take patience and accuracy into the game in order to keep pace wit the number one team in the state.
"We gotta take care of the ball. It's the main thing against Four Winds," Cook said. "If you can beat that first wave of pressure, you can get some shots, but most of the time that's where they get you in trouble. You throw the ball and they're off to the races."
NR-S moves ahead to Monday's game with a regional berth in hand, while Dakota Priaire is still looking for that ticket into the next round. In still working on stablizing their attack, head coach Thomas Trostad said that there were a lot of runs for the Knights on the court and in their heads that proved costly.
"The game was really up and down for us with runs in the game and runs mentally," Trostad said. "When things got a little tough, like when Ulrich was being agressive down low, it got us away from our game. It pushed us to the 3-point line, which was fine because we hit our shots, but we still couldn't dig ourselves out of that hole."
Dakota Priaire fell into a 10 point hold throuhgout the game, but its 3-point shooting was able to give them a chance to the final buzzer. The Knights shot down 12 3-pointers on the night, seeing junior guard Garrett Haakenson take control with five 3-balls for a team high 19 points. As a player who has a more defensive focused role, Haakenson's spark plug performance was huge for Dakota Priaire. Syverson was limited to
"He's stepped up a lot," Trostad said. "In the beginning of the year he was in the role of being a point guard, facilitate and all that stuff. Now, he steps up and wants to take those shots. The boys need to see that they can do it and hit shots like that. It's awesome to see that he can find that grit and take those shots. We need that Monday."
Haakenson's shooting performance was matched by the heavy shooting performance of senior guard Blake Hanson, who has had the hot hand for the Knights throughout this tournament. The guard would finish with five 3-pointers of his own for 15 on the night. Junior guard Cade Stein would top off the 3-point effort with two of his own.
Dakota Priaire shot the lights out, but struggled to find conversions in the paint. The Rockets keyed heavy into Stein, limiting him to 10 points on the night. Syverson was limited to 12 points from close as either Ulrich or Berglund was all over the Knights big man.
The Knights fall into the consolation bracket and will face Benson County on Monday for a regional berth. The Wildcats weren't taking a day off as they were huddled up in the upper level of the gym watching Dakota Priaire. Both teams have a similar offense function in having their scoring start from one player and expand. The Wildcats roll off of senior guard Blayne Anderson while Dakota Prairie has Stein spark the scoring.
In their last matchup, the Wildcats jumped on Stein quick, eventaully resulting in a 55-42 loss for the Knights. Trostad said that mentally, the loss was similar to the Saturday's game where they got into their heads a little bit too much. In having a simialr structure on offense, Dakota Prairie is looking to counter the Wildcats possible focus on Stein with a similar focus on Anderson.
"They run Anderson off a lot of ball screens and he's good with the ball in his hand," Trostad said. "We want to push him off his game a bit and contain him. We want to do what they're going to do to us: have someone else beat us."