No. 1 Four Winds/Minnewaukan championship run ends in semifinals to Kindred, faces Grafton for 3rd place
94 feet under the stands at the Minot State Dome told two very different stories Friday night.
On the north end of the hallway, the neon sea of Viking fans were cheering every time a player walked out of the locker room. It was long after the game was over, but fans stuck around to show their support after Kindred pulled off a second straight upset as a five seed.
Straight down the hall the other way there was a completely different feeling. It was silent. Some friends and family stuck around outside the Indians locker room waiting to comfort their sons, brothers, and friends who were only a few feet ahead of them. It was only a few minutes before that senior's guard JaeShaun Shaw and forward Caelen Lohnes were walking into the locker room, visibly distraught and surrounded by others trying to offer them support.
The two were apart of the Indians core of 10 seniors who have had their sights set out on a state title for as long as they could remember. After having their tournament bid taken away in 2020, Four Winds rolled through the regular season to not only reclaim a Region 4 title but advance all the way to Class B state semifinals. They were set up with a meeting with No. 5 Kindred, who had upset No. 4 Dickinson Trinity the night before.
They watched video. They practiced for the Vikings. They even stayed after their quarterfinals game to watch Kindred the night before. However, with all that preparation, the Indians were hit with a curveball that no one saw coming.
Senior guard Matthew Pearson, who wasn't seen as the biggest to the Indians, would light up for six 3-pointers, seeing Four Winds struggling to figure out how to solve the guard. Adding in 15 points from sophomore forward Paul Olson, Kindred would build upon a 10 point lead and hold onto it to the buzzer for the 60-42 upset win.
The loss for the Indians is only their second on the season and is their biggest margin of defeat since losing to Saint John, 79-47, in the 2019 Region 4 tournament. It's a loss that stings and Indians head coach Rick Smith said he isn't going to sugar coat it. Why? It's the best way for Four Winds to emote, move on and prepare for its next game.
"It's a stinger. Go ahead and be emotional and get it out of your system," Smith said. "The seniors have one game left and we're hoping to get the kids that are coming back next season some state experience on the floor. You can put as much sugar as you want on it, it's still not going to taste good. Just let them be emotional and let them get it all out. They grew up together and it was a good run for them. We just ran into a good team."
Smith said despite the loss, there was no effort lost in the finish from the Indians. Shaw led the scoring effort with 10 points, passing the 1,000 career point mark along the way. Shaw is the third player to pass the milestone marker as junior guard Jayden Yankton and senior center Bronson Walter had passed it earlier this season.
Freshman forward Deng Deng would follow Shaw in scoring with nine points proceeded by Walter with eight points complimented by six rebounds. His time was limited as he would spend the final minutes of the second quarter in the locker room after he was seen with some visible discomfort with his ankle. He would end up returning to the game in the second half.
Among pushing their offense a little quicker in order to get a lead, Pearson's emergence as an unexpected threat threw the Indians out of cycle as the focus to guard Olson and 6-foot-9-inch senior center Gavin Keller was still there, but now needing a heightened focus on Pearson. The guard would finish with a team-high 18 points on the night, shooting 75 percent from 3-point range.
"We wanted to try to take the ball out of their point guard's hands and try to stay close to Olson and Keller at the same time," Smith said. "If we were going to take our chances on anybody, it was going to be No. 12 because even last night he was hardly in the game. It's guys like that you don't expect to step up, but there they are...You don't figure those guys to do that and it came up big for them. It was their night, not ours."
At the same time, the Indians saw their bench step up at key times in the first half to keep the game close. After Walter would head back to the locker room, leaving the center position open, Deng would enter the game. He would not only hit a clutch 3 to allow the Indians to escape with a lead heading into halftime but would play a major role in Four Winds' defensive effort throughout the game.
Senior guards Jonah Jackson and Jacob LaRock's entrance into the game turned some heads to as the pairs aggressive man-on-man press and swarming of the ball would allow them to convert off of turnovers. The Indians "hype men" would combine for eight points and five rebounds in the finish.
"We had to speed it up a little bit and we had to go with a quicker lineup, and Bronson knows we had to do that," Smith said. "We had to push the ball up quicker and attack quicker. Bronson was aware of that and he understands. You have to have five fresh legs out there and quicken your game up."
Walter, who stands out in the paint at 6-foot-10-inches had a matchup similar to his in Keller, who is an inch shorter than the guard, and Smith said Walter matched up well. Keller would be limited to nine points, hitting three from the free-throw line. However, Smith also commended the defensive response from Kindred on Walter, throwing a double team on him when he got down in the paint.
Kindred moves right in the bracket into the championship game, facing Edgeley/Kulm/Montpelier for the Class B crown, while Four Winds moves left and will face No. 2 Grafton for third place.
As both squads move into Saturday's finale, Smith wants his team to be emotional, if they want to, after Friday's loss. If they want to cry, they should cry. If they want to be sad, they should be sad. But he wants them to be emotional now, so they can refocus for Saturday, which will be this senior classes' final time together on the court this season.
"We'll get our matchups together, make sure our seniors are getting on the floor and go out and play the same way," Smith said. "We're not just going to go out and throw the ball up, but go out, have fun and play the same way that we did. Were going to try to get some more guys in there because their legs will be tired, three games in three nights. I know they're all going to want to play and not want to come out, and probably be more relaxed than they were tonight."
Kindred 60, Four Winds/Minnewaukan 42
Kindred - 10, 13, 16, 21 - 60
Four Winds/Minnewaukan - 13, 13, 8, 8 - 42
Kindred -- Pearson 6 0-0 18, Olson 6 2-4 15, Peraza 4 2-2 10, Keller 3 3-6 9, McQuillan 2 0-0 6, Heinrich 1 0-4 2. Toals 22 7-16 60.
Four Winds/Minnewaukan -- Shaw 4 1-1 10, Deng 4 0-0 9, Walter 4 0-0 8, Yankton 3 0-0 7, LaRock 1 2-2 4, Jackson 2 0-0 4. Totals 18 3-3 42.
3-pointers: Kindred 9 (Pearson 6, McQuillan 2, Olson 1). Four Winds/Minnewaukan 3 (Shaw 1, Deng 1, Yankton 1).