Big, bad Brad
Brad Heidlebaugh wasted no time establishing himself as one of the top boys basketball players in the area this season. Through No. 6-ranked Rugby High School’s first three games, the junior forward notched three straight career highs, including a 30-point performance in the program’s third-straight CNDC championship game win.
RHS beat St. John, 74-60, for the title in front of a packed home crowd at Charles Hanneman Gymnasium on Dec. 7.
“(Brad’s) gonna probably end up doing that a lot,” RHS coach Mike Santjer said. “He’s just gonna wear kids down eventually. He’s big and strong and athletic. I don’t know if anybody’s gonna play that kind of defense (against him) for 32 minutes.”
The Woodchucks started hot with aggressive play led by sophomore Dalton Poitra, who had nine points in the first quarter. St. John took an 8-4 lead before the Panthers went on a 10-0, run and Rugby didn’t trail the remainder of the game. Poitra came out strong again in the second quarter, scoring his team’s first five points. The inside-outside connection of Heidlebaugh and junior Tanner Bernhardt took over from there. The pair hit two 3-pointers apiece in the first half, and the Panthers led 40-30 at the break.
“It was working really good,” said Bernhardt, who finished with 21 points. “Brad would score and then I would hit a 3, and we’ve been doing that pretty much our whole lives.”
Bernhardt didn’t need to rely on his outside game, as his first step off the dribble was too quick for St. John’s 1-3-1 zone traps.
“Tanner does such a great job of driving that if he starts making a couple 3s and they’re flying to him, he finishes really well at the hoop,” Santjer said, “so it makes him really dangerous.”
RHS started the second half on a 14-5 run, prompting a Woodchucks’ timeout. The score continued to balloon as the Panthers led by as much as 18 late in the third. St. John coach Steve Poitra said Rugby is about as good as any team the Woodchucks will face this season, including North Star and last year’s state runner-up Four Winds-Minnewaukan.
“We gave up way too many offensive rebounds,” Steve Poitra said. “We battled hard, but I guess we were just a little too small for these guys. They put their bigs in there and they got on the glass. They get up and down the floor very well, they’re good in transition and Heidlebaugh is a player.”
Heidlebaugh’s previous two career highs happened in the tournament’s first two days.
The 6-foot-4 banger scored 21 points in the first round over Rolla and 24 points in the semifinal win over Dunseith. Dalton Poitra said it felt like Heidlebaugh had 10 three-point plays in the final. He converted one of 3-and-1 opportunities, but finished 6 for 9 from the free-throw line.
“I missed a lot of easy bunnies off the back iron every time, but I played pretty good and I thought the team played pretty good,” Heidlebaugh said. “I’m really pleased. Everybody plays hard. We pretty much have all of what a good team needs to be successful.”