The Rugby High School boys basketball team impressed the hometown crowd, cruising to a championship at the CNDC Tournament at the Rugby H.S. gym.
No team came within 25 points of the Panthers, who sailed to the title and entered the Class B state poll with a No. 9 ranking.
Rugby opened the tournament with a 81-27 defeat of Rolla on Dec. 6. The next evening, the Panthers faced their stiffest test of the tournament with a 77-52 win over St. John.
Rugby ran out to a 24-point lead in the first half en route to a 60-25 win over New Rockford-Sheyenne.
Balance was the keyword for the Panthers (4-0) throughout the tournament.
In its first two games, Rugby landed four players in double figures in scoring.
Ball movement has been driving the offense for a Rugby team which has been very unselfish in the early going, according to head coach Mike Santjer,
“This is one team which is very unselfish,” Santjer said. “We are putting up a lot of points. It’s been fun to watch. We’ve had several times where we go from one end to the other and the ball doesn’t touch the floor. When we get out and run and we’re unselfish, we make points up pretty quick.”
In topping Rolla, Kyle Lovcik (22 points) and Josh Michels (20) led the way for the Panthers.
Lovcik added 19 in the win over the Woodchucks and Brad Heidlebaugh kicked in 17 with Kyle Halvorson adding 14.
Heidlebaugh (13) and Chris Hamilton (12) were the team’s top scorers in the championship game.
“We’ve had four different guys in double figures most nights,” Santjer said. “If we have four guys putting up 10 points or more it makes it tough for other teams to scout you and stop you. We’ve been fortunate.”
Although the Panthers have yet to be tested by an explosive offense, Rugby will have to continue to maximize its effort on defense to continue the success.
“Defense is something we always need to stress,” Santjer said. “We haven’t had anybody put up a ton of points against us yet. Defense, to me, is all effort. If we can put the effort in on defense, that’s going to improve us big time.”
After scoring easy victories in its first four games, Rugby expects some much stiffer competition leading up to the Christmas break.
The Panthers host traditional Region 6 powerhouse Bishop Ryan on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m.
“They’re always prepared, they’re probably going to be up and down and shoot a lot of 3s,” Santjer said. “They’re not real big. They have Kramer, he’s very strong kid, but height-wise they’re not very big.”
The games don’t get any easier the following weekend, as the Panthers prepare to play two of the state’s best – top-ranked North Star and No. 3 Cavalier in consecutive nights.
“Going into the weekend of the 21st and 22nd, we head to Cando to play Cavalier,” Santjer said. “They’re up to third in the state. They’re a team that’s had a pretty good program for awhile. On Saturday (the 22nd), we have North Star here. That’ll be a fun Friday and Saturday.”
Santjer said the team hasn’t made too much of breaking into the top 10 in the statewide media poll.
“We were in that position last year, we broke into the top 10,” he said. “Most of these kids know. It puts a target on your back. Any team sees you’re in the top 10, they want to be the first to knock you off for sure. It’s pressure, but some kids thrive on that. They like to see that. They work hard, so it’s nice that they’ve got some recognition.”