Rugby Bandits win Pacesetter Four-State Championship
The Rugby Bandits took first place in the Pacesetter Four-State basketball championships held July 9th in Minneapolis. The tournament featured the 8th grade boys’ state champions and runners-up from Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota. The Bandits qualified for the tournament by defeating Bismarck in overtime, in the North Dakota title game on April 9th.
Rugby defeated Washington, Iowa 45-32 in the opening round of the four-state championship. With six minutes remaining and the game tied, back-to-back three-pointers by Tanner Bernhardt and Eli Luna keyed a 15-2 run to end the game.
The semi-final game was also close throughout, until Rugby opened a lead late in the game, ultimately defeating Hawley, Minnesota, 44-34. Hawley had defeated the Bandits in March. The Bandits’s Alex Weston hit some key outside shots early in the game, forcing Hawley out of its zone defense, which opened things up inside for Brad Heidlebaugh and Zac Miller. Fast break points in the second half broke the game open.
The championship game featured a David and Goliath battle between Rugby and Bloomington, Minnesota. Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, won their first-round game by over 30 points, before defeating Bismarck by 29 points in the semi-finals.
“It was scary watching the way they crushed their first two opponents,” Bandits coach Rob Hovland said. “It was obvious that they were faster and more athletic than any team we’ve seen.”
Rugby opened up a five-point halftime lead in the championship game, in spite of playing short-handed due to injuries and foul trouble. The Bandits managed to slowly pull away in the second half, opening up a 14-point lead with three minutes to play, before ultimately winning 38-29.
“It was an unusual style of game,” Hovland said. “Bloomington’s constant trapping defense prevented us from running any kind of organized plays, but our guys handled it remarkably well.”
The championship game was played on the Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx floor at the Target Center.
Team members from the area are: Zac Miller, Brad Heidlebaugh, Nolan Hovland, Tanner Bernhardt, Eric Hooker, all Rugby; Colter Thorp, Hunter Schell, Eli Luna, Towner; Alex Weston, Cando.
“It was like a scene from the movie ‘Hoosiers,’ ” Hovland said. “A bunch of small town kids beating a talented big city team in the atmosphere of a professional basketball arena. Remarkably, none of our players seemed the least bit intimidated. We played as well as we are capable of playing.”