Girls grit out opener
The Rugby High School girls basketball team entered the Dec. 13 season opener aware that rebounding was a major issue.
The Panthers lack height and it showed against Langdon Area, but RHS overcame an ugly rebounding deficit with superb free-throw shooting to beat the Cardinals 63-57 at Charles Hanneman Gymnasium.
Rugby was 25 of 34 from the free-throw line and 13 of 16 in the fourth quarter.
“I’m very pleased considering at practices it hasn’t looked that good,” RHS coach Jen Brossart said. “They showed up, they shot it when they had to. For us to get shots, we’re gonna have to dribble penetrate and we gotta be able to knock down free throws, so I was very proud of the girls for that because that very easily could’ve gone the other way.”
Junior guard Darby Deckert’s 16 points led four Panthers in double figures and Langdon sophomore center Krystal Ratzlaff scored a game-high 21.
Deckert led all scorers with 11 points at the half and RHS was in control at 30-21. The Cardinals hung around with their size advantage to create second- and third-chance scoring opportunities, including three in putbacks in a fourth-quarter rally to cut a 12-point deficit to 56-52 with a minute, 23 second left.
“We’re just gonna have to come up with some half-court drills to really get these girls to hammer down on just finding a different color jersey and just boxing out,” Brossart said. “It doesn’t even come down to height, it just comes down to purely getting after it and boxing out and let the refs do the rest of the work.”
Sophomore guard Shea Heidlebaugh (13 points) and junior McKenzie Johnson (12) took care of the ball down the stretch and kept the feisty Cardinals in foul trouble. The duo connected four free throws apiece in the fourth.
“I knew that I had to step up in order to kind of get the team going,” Heidlebaugh said. “I knew it was first-game jitters and I felt a lot more confident coming into that second half.”
As did the 5-foot-11 Ratzlaff, who had just seven points in the first half and muscled her way to 10 in the fourth quarter.
“They’re a scrappy bunch of girls and that’s the way we play,” Langdon coach Ethen Askvig said. “They got us in foul trouble a little bit and (we) put them on the free-throw line a little too often, but they’re definitely girls that never quit.”
Deckert kept the more athletic Panthers in good position by pushing the pace and Johnson emerged as a serious scoring threat despite seeing little time last year.
“(Johnson) had some 3s, she hit some big free throws,” Brossart said. “She’s not afraid to penetrate. She played for us a little in the beginning last year and we just saw some things and went a different way, but she’s really come on strong this year. She’s shown us she can play. The biggest thing for her is just keeping her head as far as knowing what the game situation is and tonight she did well.”
Brossart also praised junior forward ReeAnn Christianson’s toughness and Heidlebaugh’s ability to control the offense.
“Shea’s a gamer,” Brossart said. “She wants to do the best she can do and she’s young. She’s just gotta realize she’s gotta let the game come to her and not force it.”
The Panthers finish a three-game stretch at the CNDC tournament in Harvey today.
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