Shanley takes down Devils Lake in tight contest

Sam Herder
Hunter Fee gets between his defender and the basket for a layup in the first half of Devils Lake's game against Fargo Shanley. The Firebirds and Deacons went back and forth, but Shanley got the last laugh in a 74-73 win.

By Sam Herder

Journal Sports Editor

In a playoff-like atmosphere, the Devils Lake Sports Center saw a playoff-like game between Fargo Shanley and the Firebirds boys basketball teams on Thursday. The Eastern Dakota Conference battle saw 34 ties or lead changes between second place Devils Lake (12-8, 14-5 EDC) and the fifth place Deacons (12-7, 11-7). It was Shanley, though, who landed the final punch to win 74-73.

“You have to learn how to win close games, it’s not a thing that just happens,” Firebirds head coach Derek Gathman said. “You have to learn that you’ve got to make winning plays all the time. We talked about it that we get 8-10 turnovers in the first half. Well, if we lose by one, you take away three of those turnovers and make a shot, you win the game. You don’t lose it at the end of the game, you lose it all throughout the game.”

The two offenses were at their best with both shooting over 50 percent from the floor. The majority of the first half saw a one-possession game as DL and Shanley went basket-for-basket to exchange leads. As it should have, the last team to hold the ball before halftime took the lead when Shanley’s Devin Klieman hit a corner jumper at the buzzer to go up 37-35.

DL started to get into the middle of Shanley’s zone to start the second half. That opened up shooters, in which Zach Dahlen took advantage of. Dahlen, who had 18 points, hit three 3-pointers in the first eight minutes. His last one gave the Firebirds a 51-48 lead.

“We finally got the ball to the middle,” Gathman said. “We were able to get (Dahlen) the ball and we got that inside-out look and that’s great. Zach knocked a few down, but we just didn’t get enough stops.”

As easy as it was to take a lead, it was just as easy to lose a lead in this game. The Deacons answered with a quick 6-0 run.

A couple minutes later, it was DL’s turn to make a run. Jake Mertens scored five straight points in his game-high 23-point performance. After a Deacon bucket, Hunter Fee completed an and-1 and the Firebirds led 61-57 with seven minutes, 52 seconds remaining.

Shanley answered again to tie the game at 61. The game slowed down in the next few minutes, with each point a crucial one to either tie the game or take the lead.

Another Dahlen 3-pointer gave DL a 68-67 advantage with three minutes and change to play. It turned out to be the last lead of the game for the Firebirds.

The Deacons responded with two baskets. A Josh Frelich floater in the lane made it 71-70 with one minute, 15 seconds to play.

After a free throw by Shanley, the Firebirds had the ball with 29 seconds left, down 72-70. DL had two looks, but couldn’t find the bottom of the net.

Cam Saville was fouled with 8.3 seconds left and sealed the game with two free throws. Nik Desai made a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the game was already in hand.

“We’ll have to do a little better job of playing a team defense, maybe mix it up a little bit on our looks from man to zone,” Gathman said.

The Firebirds remain in second place, but are now in a tie with Fargo Davies, who have three more games remaining compared to just one for Devils Lake.

DL travels to play fourth-place Grand Forks Red River on Tuesday. With a win, or even a close loss, DL would likely find itself as the No. 3 seed in the EDC Tournament.

The furthest the Firebirds could drop if they had a big loss to the Roughriders is No. 4, meaning DL is guaranteed to host a first round game in the tournament.

But taking a look at the potential matchups, a No. 4 seed would likely bring Shanley back to the Sports Center as the fifth seed.

“It puts us on the stove a little bit here,” Gathman said. “Now Red River can win their next two games and we can drop all the way down to four. And then we can see (Shanley) again. So we need to take care of business now.”

Statistics

Jake Mertens: 23 pts, 10 reb, 5 ast

Zach Dahlen: 18 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl

Mason Kostecki: 10 pts, 2 reb

Nik Desai: 9 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast

Hunter Fee: 7 pts, 6 reb

Josh Frelich: 7 pts, 3 ast