Breaking: Panthers a win away
GRAND FORKS – Brad Heidlebaugh threw down a pair of thunderous, two-handed slam dunks in the second quarter, and the momentum stayed with No. 1 Rugby.
The Panthers (27-0) shook off a rusty shooting performance in the opening round and powered by North Star for a 54-44 semifinal win Friday at the Alerus Center.
The victory set up a championship matchup with No. 2 Fargo-Oak Grove tonight at 8. The Grovers beat Linton-HMB 76-68 in the other semifinal.
“It’s a real big booster,” Heidlebaugh said of the dunks. “It really gets our crowd and everybody riled up and gave us some good momentum going into the half.”
Heidlebaugh and junior Tanner Bernhardt shared a team-high 16 points. Bernhardt’s shooting woes from the first round (1-for-13) dissipated as he hit a 3-pointer in each quarter.
Rugby senior Chris Hamilton scored his first points on a 3 with five seconds left in the half and opened the second half with another triple to give his team a 29-19 lead. North Star answered with a 3, but Bernhardt drilled his third from behind the arc seconds later. The Panthers held a double-digit lead for nearly the whole half.
“It feels really good right now,” Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. “It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of time and effort, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s so fun. I’m so proud of these guys. They did a phenomenal job tonight.”
North Star (19-8) worked a 13-point deficit down to eight on three occasions in the fourth quarter, but Rugby raced ahead in transition at every opportunity.
“It seemed like every time we did get a little something going they answered,” North Star coach Jeff Hagler said. “That’s the sign of a good ballclub.”
Junior guard Alex Weston was rolling for the Bearcats, but didn’t receive much help as he scored 12 of the team’s 19 points in the first half. Weston finished with a team-high 20 points and classmate Christian Kvilvang scored 11.
Bernhardt hit a 3 to give the Panthers a 48-36 lead with four minutes remaining.
“I just gotta keep shooting,” Bernhardt said. “That’s what good shooters do and I try to do that and tried dishing off to my teammates and it worked out tonight.”
The Panthers will go for their first state title since 1962, when they were in Class A. The team last won a Class B title in 1941. The Grovers are the last obstacle.
“We gotta come with our heads screwed on tight,” Bernhardt said. “We gotta play great defense and then our offense will come.”
Heidlebaugh grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and junior Zach Miller posted 10 points and 10 boards.
North Star will return its entire starting five (three juniors, two freshmen) next season.
“Of course, when you get to this point you want to win, no doubt about it,” Hagler said. “But I don’t think anybody expected us to be at this point. We could’ve pretty easily gave up a couple times tonight.”
Fargo-Oak Grove 76, Linton-HMB 68
Christian Adams scored 17 of his game-high 29 points in the first half to lead No. 2 seed Fargo-Oak Grove past a stingy Linton-HMB squad in the first semifinal.
The Grovers (25-2) are seeking their first state championship since 2000, and they will play Rugby in the final tonight at 8.
Linton-HMB (21-5) will play North Star for third-place at 6 p.m.
The Lions took a 2-point lead on a 3-pointer from sophomore Erik Holzer with two minutes left in the third quarter, but the Lions couldn’t keep pace with the stronger Grovers.
Oak Grove junior guard Carter Kretchman scored 18 points and sank a 3 with 1:37 remaining to give his team a 67-60 lead. Linton threw the ball away on the ensuing possession and Adams coasted for a 3-point play.
Junior guard Johnathon Purintun led Linton with 19 points and classmate Ryan Schneider had 15.
Beulah 50, New Town 48
Cole Messerschmidt’s 10th 3-pointer of the tournament lifted Beulah to a consolation-round win over New Town.
Messerschmidt connected from the left wing with 16 seconds remaining and the Miners (20-6) took a 49-48 lead, only their second advantage of the game. New Town senior Wayne Fox had a good look at a potential game-winner, but his floater rimmed out with 1.5 seconds to go.
“It felt pretty good,” Messerschmidt said. “I was pretty confident it was gonna go in. I’ve been feeling it lately. Last game, I made six 3s, so I just kept firing.”
Beulah trailed for nearly the entire game, but briefly held a 28-27 lead in the third quarter. Sophomore forward Casey Walcker scored a game-high 24 points and Messerschmidt added 14, including four 3-pointers.
Senior Joe Baker finished with 14 points and Fox had 13 for the Eagles (20-4).
Beulah junior Luke Blood made the front end of a double-bonus with a second left and Fox’s final attempt from half court was well off the mark.
Beulah plays Cavalier for fifth-place today at about 2:45 p.m. New Town plays Flasher for seventh-place at 1 p.m.
Cavalier 76, Flasher 56
In the first game of consolation play, No. 3 seed Cavalier recovered from its first-round defeat with a comfortable 76-56 win over Flasher.
The Tornadoes (24-2) had two big-time scorers in Ryan Chrest and Brock Robbins with 23 and 20, respectively. Cavalier jumped out to a 23-13 lead through the first quarter and led 36-26 at the half.
Flasher (20-6) fell into today’s seventh-place game against New Town at 1 p.m. Zach Schmidt led the Bulldogs with 22 points and J.W. Froelich added 12. The Region 5 champs entered the tournament on an 11-game win streak. Region 2 champion Cavalier came to Grand Forks with a 17-game win streak and a lone early season loss to Pelican Rapids (Minn.).
Cavalier will play Beulah for fifth place at approximately 2:45 p.m.
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