Firebirds finish strong in 75-59 home win against Fargo South
By Sam Herder
Journal Sports Editor
About midway through the second half, it looked like Devils Lake and Fargo South would need to go to the final minute to decide the winner. But with three games remaining, the second place Firebirds couldn’t give the 10th place Bruins an opportunity to squeak out a win on their home court.
After being up two points with eight minutes and change remaining, Devils Lake finished the game on a 22-8 run to improve to 12-7 overall and 14-4 in the Eastern Dakota Conference boys basketball standings.
Fargo South drops to 3-16 and 2-16 in the conference.
“We needed this one,” junior guard Jake Mertens said. “We couldn’t lose it. We can’t afford to do that this late in the year. We just got stops which led to points.”
The Firebirds were in control for a majority of the game, holding a 47-34 lead early in the second half off a Zach Dahlen 3-pointer.
But from the 12-10 minute mark, the Bruins went on a 7-0 run. After a Firebird bucket, South answered with a 4-0 run to bring the deficit to 53-51.
“When they got it down to there, it was just like ‘we’ve got to go,’” Firebirds head coach Derek Gathman said. “We made a couple stops and got it going that way.”
DL needed something to start going on offense at that point. Or someone.
Mertens answered the call, scoring eight points in 46 seconds. After a Bruins timeout, Mertens added a free throw and Mason Kostecki made a layup in a huge 11-0 run.
What started the run was two quick 3-pointers from Mertens off the same baseline out-of-bounds play.
Mertens, who had a game-high 27 points, would lob the in-bounds pass to the elbow, then come off a screen to the corner. Simple, but effective, as he got two quick open looks.
“We have so many weapons, it’s hard to show off me because that leaves another guy open,” Mertens said. “We just took what they gave us.”
The Bruins only scored four points in the next five minutes of play after bringing it to 53-51.
DL, meanwhile, kept increasing its lead with good ball movement to put any hope of a comeback away. The Firebirds recorded 14 assists in the game compared to South’s five.
“It was one of those battle games,” Gathman said. “They were going to make it ugly and slow us down. They did a good job of it in stretches, but I told them we needed to get some stops so we can get out and run.”
Ben Shepherd and Kostecki added free throws down the stretch. Dahlen, who finished with 19 points, completed an and-1 and another layup as the Firebirds were able to coast in the final minutes to its second home victory in a row.
“We’re going to have games like that,” Gathman said. “We’ll have a game like that in the tournament. They had a good game plan for us. They tried to take Jake away and he had to work hard and was tired. We handled the ball and made a couple 3s. Defensively, we finally buckled down and that got us going.”
Two regular season games remain for DL, beginning at home Thursday against Fargo Shanley.
Jake Mertens: 27 pts, 8 reb, 3 ast, 3 stl
Zach Dahlen: 19 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast
Mason Kostecki: 9 pts
Hunter Fee: 6 pts, 10 reb
Nik Desai: 6 pts, 3 ast