DISTRICTS: Four Winds wins 9th straight district crown, New Rockford-Sheyenne, Benson County advance to regionals

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated New Rockford-Sheyenne for the District 7 championship. Benson County defeated Dakota Prairie to advance to regionals. Lakota lost to Harvey/Wells County.

Three days of basketball, and some seasons, came to a close on Monday as six squads took the court at New Rockford-Sheyenne in hopes to continue their season and pick up some hardware. Lakota, Harvey/Wells County, Benson County, and Dakota Prairie were all looking to punch their ticket into regionals while New Rockford-Sheyenne was looking to end Four Winds/Minnewaukan's eight-year reign as district champions.

Lakota struggled against the height and speed HWC brought to the court and would end up falling to the Hornets, ending its season. Benson County got an early jump on Dakota Prairie and continued to push ahead, pulling off the upset to head to regionals. In the championship, a defensive surge powered the Indians from buzzer to buzzer as they would top the Rockets by 41 to clinch their ninth straight district title. 

With an exciting tournament coming to an end, seeing three area teams keep their seasons alive, even more, hangs in the balance heading forward. Here's a recap of championship Monday's games.

Harvey/Wells County 66, Lakota 46

Harvey/Wells County - 20, 11, 21, 14 - 66

Lakota - 8, 12, 8, 18 - 46

Harvey/Wells County -- Tipton 7 0-0 17, T. Grossman 5 2-3 15, Erickson 6 2-3 14, T. Grossman 2 0-0 7, Thorson 3 0-0 6, Allmaras 1 1-1 3, Fike 0 0-0 3, Keller 0 1-2 1. Totals 24 6-10

Lakota -- Ferguson 6 3-3 15, Thompson 3 2-4 8, Hendrickson 3 1-4 7, Gibson 1 4-6 6, R. Steffan 0 0-2 6, J. Steffan 1 0-0 2, Baumgarn 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 10-19. 

3-pointers: Harvey/Wells County 4 (Fike 1, T. Grossman 1, T. Grossman 1, Tipton 1). Lakota 2 (R. Steffan 2). 

The Raiders have been in a similar situation these past few years at districts. They are either out on day two or day three. And is mostly causes of mismatches in overall numbers. Lakota usually plays seven guys while other squads are able to go three or more players deep. 

The Raiders ran into a similar situation Saturday against Harvey/Wells County in the first play-in game of the day. The Hornets' numbers on the court and height advantage were too much for Lakota as they would fall to HWC, 66-46, ending their season at 3-17. 

"That's a good team that beat us in the regular season," Raiders head coach Tyson Ackerman said. "It was tough to match up man and hard to guard their athleticism. They didn't hit a 3-pointer against Benson County, so I thought if we went to that zone we'd get lucky, but they hit big shots. That's a good team and they're a tough matchup."

There weren't many times where the Raiders were able to get the edge on the Hornets, as HWC dominated the paint on both ends, seeing Tyson Tipton, Tanner Grossman, and Alex Erickson combine for 18 2-point field goals. However, similar to their game against the Wildcats, there was a stretch in which the Hornets struggled to get the ball to sink from deep and from close.

The stall did see the Raiders pull within eight of the lead, seeing freshman forward Ross Thompson and senior Cole Hendrickson pump the effort to a comeback. The two were a constant for Lakota throughout as Thompson would finish with eight points and Hendrickson would finish with seven. It was the window Lakota needed, but they just couldn't get shots to fall. 

"Defense turns into offense, so if we can get some stops then we can run our sets and get layups on the other side," Ackerman said. "When we went on that little run it was layup here, layup there, stopped them, and got a couple of rebounds, but you can't go on a run if you trade bucket for bucket."

It once again came down to numbers and experience for Lakota. The Raiders got another boost from senior forward Brandt Ferguson, downing a team-high 15 points, but needed to give him a break later on in the game in order to not exhaust him. Ackerman said in the stretch where Ferguson was on the bench, they did struggle a little without him. 

Ferguson, who's been a major impact player in the postseason for the Raiders, is one of three seniors the Raiders will be losing, the others being Hendrickson and senior guard Roman Steffan. Ferguson has been a centerpiece to the offense while Hendrickson and Steffan have been a major lift on the post. 

At the same time in being so young, Lakota still has talent that will be there for a few more years. Thompson still has three years with the Raiders, picking up all-district team accolades, and has been Lakota's leading scorer this season. Freshman guard Jaxon Baumgarn still has few years left and has also built a growing scoring role. Freshman guard Zach Gibson got some playing time against HWC and showed potential for Lakota.

"Ross Thompson is a freshman, my point guard is a freshman and they're playing basketball at a higher level than they've played in their entire lives," Ackerman said. "They've had to play up for a long time. Now, they're freshmen playing varsity because there's just a gap in kids in Lakota. I see those kids stepping up." 

It's been a very repetitive end to the season for Lakota over the past five years. Some years they'll win to go to day three or lose on day two, but in the end, they haven't been able to make it out with a winning or .500 record. However, in having a larger younger core that has had to play ahead of the curve throughout their entire careers, the Raiders might just be getting over the hump. 

Maintain Thompson is huge for the Raiders and getting younger players time on the court just speeds up development. Ackerman said that while younger players are getting the court time they need, they need to put in the work as well. 

"This is the fifth year in a row where we've lost on day three, but we've been the four or five seed with seven teams in the district, so you get an automatic BYE to the third round," Ackerman said. "We usually play Dakota Prairie in this situation, so for us, any game we play or any practice we have, we're looking to get better. The freshman just need to be in the game and play as much basketball as they can."

Benson County 60, Dakota Prairie 49 

Benson County - 11, 18, 14, 17 - 60

Dakota Prairie - 10, `4, 12, 13 - 49 

Benson County -- Anderson 5 4-4 23, Wentz 3 12-12 18, Fischer 3 8-11 14, Bisbee 1 0-0 5. Totals 12 24-27 60.

Dakota Prairie --Stein 4 2-2 19, Syverson 7 0-1 17, Lenz 4 0-0 8, Jorde 1 1-1 3, Hanson 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 3-4 49. 

3-pointers: Benson County 4 (Anderson 3, Bisbee 1). Dakota Prairie 4 (Stein 3, Syverson 1).

Friday's finish against HWC rang loud in the ears of the Wildcats. They lost and it hurt. Coming back into the gym on Saturday, head coach Dustin Paulson told his squad that there were two things they needed to do to keep their season going: make free throws and get every rebound. It's how the Hornets stung them a day prior in a game decided by five points.

And the Wildcats knew, even before Paulson said it that they need to finish on the line and on the boards. After going 1-2 at the line in the final minute to potentially tie the game on Friday, senior Blayne Anderson looked defeated and disappointed in himself. Similar to his teammates, on that rare day off in the postseason, he cleaned up his game for what he was hoping was not going to be his final game as a Wildcat on Monday.

"I just needed to prepare and get ready," Anderson said. "I didn't feel like I played my best game against Harvey and it starts with me. I feel like everyone feeds off of me, so I got to play better and bring the intensity." 

Facing elimination against Dakota Prairie, who shot 12 3-pointers the night before against NR-S, the Wildcats went back to the basics and capitalized. 89 percent shooting from the free-throw line and an intense focus under the net on the boards gave Benson County the boost they needed, defeating the Knights 60-49, to advance to regionals for the fourth straight season. 

"We came prepared tonight," Paulson said. "It was all about rebound and free throws. We went 5-12 at the line and gave up almost all of our offensive rebounds on Friday. Tonight we went 24-27 at the line and did a lot better on the boards. I said Friday that rebounds and free throws win games and it won us our game tonight." 

The free-throw shooting came down to two players for the Wildcats in seniors Cole Wentz and John Fischer. Not only did Wentz shoot a dozen shots at the line, but went a perfect 12-12 at the charity stripe. Fischer, as a driving force in the paint, sees himself at the line a lot and shot 8-11 on the night, improving his count from Friday by 22 percent. 

"They were unbelievable," Paulson said. "Wentz is shooting 90 percent on the year, so towards the end, we ran plays where they would foul him and we would get him to the line. Fischer struggled Friday, worked on it Saturday, and came prepared today."

On the boards, the Wildcats big men in Anderson and freshman Macyn Olson played came in big in upping Benson County's rebounding effort. Throughout the game, Anderson matched up against Dakota Praire's big man in junior center Garrett Syverson. While junior guard Cade Stein has been the central focus of the Knights offense, Syverson was the next one up after the Wildcats were able to take Stein out of the equation.

Going back to the basics, it was the rebounding effort on both ends of the court that allowed Benson County to gain an edge past Syverson, seeing their boxing out effort elevate from last game. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated New Rockford-Sheyenne for the District 7 championship. Benson County defeated Dakota Prairie to advance to regionals. Lakota lost to Harvey/Wells County.

"You don't have to be very tall to box out," Anderson said. "We didn't do a good job of that against Harvey, so we boxed out well and we outrebounded them. That was a big focal point because we got outrebounded against Harvey, so we've just got to block out." 

While Syverson and Stein were big targets for the Wildcats, Anderson was the big target for the Knights. Still manging to drain a game-high 23 points, Paulson and himself knew that there was going to be a lot of pressure on him, needing opportunities to move the ball.

Benson County was able to break Fischer and Wentz into double figures, seeing the Wildcats have one player put up big scoring numbers in every position of the court. Anderson gave the Wildcats a lift from the outside, while Fischer worked the paint and Wentz closed out at the free-throw line. 

"It's always going to be a different look," Anderson said. "I feel like the defense did a good job on giving me different looks, but I'm just proud that my teammates always step up. Sometimes the best pass is the extra pass and it's just great to see them step up and help us get the win." 

For the Knights, it was one of those nights where they were getting good looks, but shots weren't falling. Benson County did make an effort to limit Stein and Syverson, but the duo would end up pulling forward to combine for 36 points. Knights head coach Thomas Trostad said that they fell into another situation, similar to the NR-S game, where they fell into a hole they just couldn't get out of. 

"I liked the way we played. It was the same the whole time," Trostad said. "You could see in that first quarter when shots weren't falling we got behind and dug ourselves a hole." 

The Knights saw a balanced attack from Syverson on both ends, continuing to get pulldowns in the paint and scoring on the other end. He would finish second in scoring with 17 points. The balance helped as Stein became a little more limited in the second half, due to some visible discomfort in his left knee. Stine would finish out the game with a team-high 19 points but would be a little more cautious through the second half. 

Against NR-S on Saturday, the Knights shot the lights out off of 12 3-pointers but saw their shooting go cold against the Wildcats, seeing their 3-point shooting total go down by eight from Saturday. Trostad said that it was a situation where the shots just didn't fall.  

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated New Rockford-Sheyenne for the District 7 championship. Benson County defeated Dakota Prairie to advance to regionals. Lakota lost to Harvey/Wells County.

 "It just didn't go in," Trostad said. "The looks were there and we only had two in the first quarter, one of them was at the volleyball line from Syverson at the buzzer. Their shots fell, ours didn't. That's just basketball and it just didn't play out in our favor tonight."

Dakota Prairie ends its season a game below .500 at 10-11, keeping trend to where its record has been throughout this season. The Knights season may not be ending where the way they want it to, but they will be returning a dangerous team to the court come winter 2021. Stein, Syverson, and junior guard Garrett Haakenson will be returning to the court. 

Stein and Syverson both picked up all-district accolades, and Haakenson has been a spark plug for the Knights in this tournament, doing what he can to help Dakota Prairie. In addition, there's been a lot of growth for the Knights this season. After losing to first-year co-op Griggs-Midkota in their first game of the season, Trostad said his team has come a long way. 

"There were growing pains right away and we got off to kind of a slow start when we got that first win against Larimore," Trostad said. "The boys saw that they could do it and started building. It's been there and they've come a long way from the beginning. I'm proud of every step they've taken and what they've given me this year." 

For Benson County, they are getting ready to prepare for a challenge against Langdon/Edmore/Munich on the road, but for now, they're celebrating the win.

"There's always a lot of pressure to deliver, and I just wanted to make my community, teammates, and family proud," Anderson said. "That was the main goal to get this done and celebrate with my team on the bus. I'm just looking forward to celebrating with everybody." 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan 73, New Rockford-Sheyenne 32 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan - 22, 19, 20, 12 - 73 

New Rockford-Sheyenne - 7, 11, 11, 3 - 32 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan -- Shaw 4 1-5 17, Yankton 5 0-0 16, Jackson 5 2-2 12, Walter 5 1-1 11, Keja 1 0-0 5, Lohnes 1 0-0 5, LaRock 0 0-0 3, Person 1 0-0 2, Deng 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 4-8 73.

New Rockford-Sheyenne -- Grann 2 7-12 13, Berglund 1 0-0 11, Ulrich 0 4-4 4, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Jensen 1 0-0 2. Totals 5 11-16 32. 

3-pointers: Four Winds/Minnewaukan 7 (Shaw 2, Yankton 2, Keja 1, Lohnes 1, LaRock 1). New Rockford-Sheyenne 5 (Berglund 3, Grann 2). 

Nothing has really stood in the way of the Indians in district play. They have just about plowed through every team in the area, some even twice. They picked up a BYE in the first round of the district tournament and picked apart HWC in the second round to advance to the championship game. 

Four Winds may dominating District 7, but that doesn't mean they believe there isn't room to improve. While they defeated the Hornets by 25 on Saturday, the Indians believed that the defense wasn't where it needed to be. They let somethings go and gave HWC some chances they shouldn't have had. Facing a taller New Rockford-Sheyenne squad in the title game, they knew their defensive game needed to be elevated.

Speed has been the sharpest edge of the Indians' blade this season and it energized a relentless press against the Rockets on Monday night. A fast and up close defensive attack by the Indians, balanced out by a quick and accurate response on offense, saw Four Winds/Minnewaukan blow past New Rockford-Sheyenne, 73-32, for its ninth straight District 7 title. 

"That's the type of defensive intensity I was talking about on Saturday that we have to have," Indians head coach Rick Smith said. "If we can do that, our quickness is tough to match. I thought we did a really good job in forcing them in turnovers on the weak side, which is where we were slow the first night. It was a whole, good team defensive effort." 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated New Rockford-Sheyenne for the District 7 championship. Benson County defeated Dakota Prairie to advance to regionals. Lakota lost to Harvey/Wells County.

It wasn't about who was getting points for the Indians, but if they were making the stops. Smith said that senior forward Caelen Lohnes was getting into his head at halftime because he hadn't scored. However, Smith would commend Lohnes for limiting the Rockets weapon in senior center Evan Ulrich to zero points. 

"I told him the big guy hadn't scored either and that he was doing a hell of a job on him," Smith said. "That's what I'm looking for. I don't care if you don't score any points, but if you bring it on the defensive end, that's all I can ask."

Four Winds defensive surge grounded the number two team in the district to just five 2-point field goals on the night. Senior guard Johnny Grann led the Rockets with 13 points, but would only score twice from close. Ulrich finished with four but saw all his points come from 4-4 shooting at the line. It was non-stop by the Indians.

Sparking the defensive effort is Indians "hype man" off the bench in senior guard Jonah Jackson. He would finish third in scoring for the Indians with 12 but saw his efforts come up big in the paint, being a core part of that Four Winds press and working with senior center Bronson Walter in converting in the paint.

"Our defense was solid the entire game and that's what pretty much won it for us," Jackson said. "It was important to read the passing lanes and keeping up intensity." 

On offense, Jackson was working off of Walter in order to convert. At points in the game, Walter would draw at times three defenders around him. From there, Jackson said he would just find the lane and have Walter feed it into him for the score. 

"When our big guy, Bronson, get the ball, you have to find the open lane because they always double down on him," Jackson said. "From there he'll just get it to you. Also, moving the bigger guys out to the 3-point line is important." 

District 7 awards 

All-District 7 team 

Blayne Anderson, Benson County

Cade Stein, Dakota Priaire

Bronson Walter, Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Tate Grossman, Harvey/Wells County 

Ross Thompson, Lakota

Evan Ulrich, New Rockford-Sheyenne 

Julian Hill, Warwick

John Fischer, Benson County 

Garrett Syverson, Dakota Priaire 

Jayden Yankon, Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Alex Erickson, Harvey/Wells County

Johnny Grann, New Rockford-Sheyenne 

Mark Fassett, Warwick 

JaeShaun Shaw, Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Keldon Keja, Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

All-tournament team

Alex Erickson, Harvey/Wells County 

Blayne Anderson, Benson County 

Evan Ulrich, New Rockford-Sheyenne

JaeShaun Shaw, Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

Bronson Walter, Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Senior Athlete of the Year

Bronson Walter, Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Coach of the Year

Rick Smith, Four Winds/Minnewaukan

It came down to the Indians' movement on defense from side to side that allowed them to surge. The illusion of the weak side being opened had the Rockets move their play there, but with Four Winds being so fast, they were already there by the time the Rockets had decided to commit.

The starting five pumped the defensive effort for Four Winds, but the bench, specifically Jackson and senior guard Jacob LaRock, gave the Indians a spark off the bench that speaks to the team's overall depth. By the end of the night, the Indians had gone nine deep into their bench, still seeing the scoring remain consistent. Jackson and LaRock have been apart of Four Winds' main cycle, so much so that they feel like sixth and seventh starters. 

 "When you're pressuring with those main five guys and they don't go deep into their bench, then you bring energy like Jonah and Jacob off the bench, other teams are saying when are we going to get a break," Smith said. "Jonah and Jacob were not going to let off. Jonah could've been player of the game tonight and Saturday. His play is so important to us."

Strong defense led to conversions on the other end has senior guard JaeShaun Shaw lead in scoring for the second straight game, downing 17, mostly coming off the fast break. Junior guard Jayden Yankton followed with 16. After Jackson, Walter was the final Indian to break into double figures with 11 points on the night.  

Intensity has been the main key for the Indians throughout the season. Smith said the team knows that can bring it, but it's about how much they're going to bring. Games against Dunseith, Shiloh Chrisitan, and now New Rockford-Sheyenne have been some of Four Winds' strongest performances on the season.

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated New Rockford-Sheyenne for the District 7 championship. Benson County defeated Dakota Prairie to advance to regionals. Lakota lost to Harvey/Wells County.

For the Rockets, the 32 points are the team's lowest scoring total of the season, however, there were still some highlights for the Rockets in the loss. Berglund, who has been strong on the post this season, proved that he can be a shooter as he hit three 3-pointers for NR-S. Grann was a steady shooting hand and junior guard Kaden Jensen, who isn't the tallest person on the court, was driving the lane against the likes of Walter and Yankton to score. 

It's a harder loss for the Rockets, but they still have the opportunity to go far in regionals. Along with punching their ticket into the tournament, they face two squads that have gotten the best of them but not by much. They face North Star in round one, who upset them in the final game of the season. If they move on, they get L/E/M or Benson County. NR-S blew past the Wildcats in the regular season and lost to the Cardinals by a possession. The window to get to the championship game is still there for the Rockets.

A lot of this season has been about getting back to where they were at last year for the Indians. With Monday's win in the books, Four Winds is three games away from getting back, and hopefully going further. However, right now they are focused on one goal at a time. They have their goals lined up and ready to go, but they are tackling them as they go.

"Goal number one was to get the first round BYE in the district, and to finish strong and healthy," Smith said. "Goal number two was to win the district tournamnet, and we took that down tonight. Now, we have a couple more goals to do and we have to take them one at a time. The next one is the regional tournament and you have to go 3-0. There's no comeback through the loser bracket, so that's gotta be goal number three." 

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.