Panthers take district tournament championship
BOTTINEAU – The Rugby Panthers are once again District 11 tournament champions, and they had to face an all-too-familiar opponent for the title.
The No. 1-ranked Panthers faced the No.6-ranked TGU Titans in the championship round of the tournament on Feb. 14 at Bottineau High School. Rugby won 69-47.
The first quarter started with a 3-pointer from RHS senior guard Chris Hamilton. The Titans responded with a three from junior Eli Luna. Senior Kendal Green also scored for the Titans, but the first quarter belonged to the Panthers, with a second 3-pointer from Hamilton, and junior forwards Zach Miller and Brad Heidlebaugh both contributing points. The first quarter ended with a score of 10-5.
In the second quarter, fouls intensified on both sides. TGU’s Luna scored most of his seven points that quarter at the foul line, while senior Luke Bacon missed his one and only shot at the line that quarter. For the Panthers, junior guard Tanner Bernhardt scored three of his points at the foul line, and Hamilton scored all of his points at the line. Heidlebaugh was one for two at the line that quarter.
In non-foul scoring TGU’s Luna, Ethan Bachmeier and Colter Thorp put up a combined 16 points. But RHS guards Jaedon Haman and Nolan Hovland and forward Hunter Hager also put up some baskets. A three-point buzzer beater from Bernhardt ended the first half with a score of 32-21 in the Panthers’ favor.
The third quarter saw TGU’s Bacon put up his first points on the night. Green put up a three-pointer, and Luna also put up a couple points. But Rugby’s Bernhardt was skipping to the student section’s cheers again with another three, Heidlebaugh contributed four points, Miller put up nine, and Haman put up three points. A 3-pointer from Bachmeier closed out the third quarter with a score of 51-31.
The final two minutes of the fourth saw both Rugby and TGU go deep into their benches, after Rugby starters Haman, Heidlebaugh, Miller and Hamilton put up a combined 12 points. The bench, particularly Hager, freshman Anders Johnson and junior Eric Hooker scored the rest of the points for a combined 18 points in the fourth quarter versus the Titans’ 14. TGU’s Bacon had six points, including two at the foul line, and Luna put up four, with half of those points at the line. Kolter Schell, and Thorp put up the remainder of the points. The game ended in Rugby’s favor, 69-47.
“We came out more intense and we were ready to go,” Panthers coach Mike Santjer said of his squad’s performance.
TGU coach Mike Corum said: “We’re proud of our players. Rugby put up a good fight, but (TGU) never quit.”
To get to the final round, the Panthers beat No. 8-seed Bottineau Braves on Feb. 13, 85-52, and the No. 4-seed Dunseith Dragons, 65-49, on Feb. 14. Both games weren’t without setbacks, as the Panthers had a slow start on Thursday. Despite that, the Panthers were able to score 45 points in the first half, compared to the Braves’ 31.
“We didn’t work hard at the start, but we came out better near the end,” Santjer said.
On Friday, the Dragons had the lead for the entire first half while the Panthers only scored 19 points, marking the lowest first half output in scoring they had all year.
“We knew they were going to go on a run, we just didn’t know they were going to do it then,” Santjer said. “But we dug in and fought.” And dug in they did for 19 points in the third quarter and 18 points in the fourth, compared to the Dragons’ 22 points in the second half.
In the quarterfinals TGU beat the No. 3-seed Westhope-Newburg Sioux, who Corum said has been a longtime foe of theirs in both basketball and football, on Feb. 13, 62-54, and the No. 2-seed Drake-Anamoose Raiders, 54-42, on Friday. The Titans put up a combined 28 points in the first half and 26 points in the second half. The Raiders scored 21 points in both halves.
“We came into this tournament at sixth place with a chip on our shoulder,” Corum said, “but our best basketball is still to come at regionals.”
The first round of the Region 6 Basketball tournament at the Minot State University Dome is on Monday. The Panthers will take on the Bishop Ryan Lions, and the Titans will take on the Our Redeemers Christian School (ORCS) Knights. Also in the first round, the Raiders will take on the Berthold Bombers, and the Dragons will take on the Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers.
The Panthers didn’t walk away from the tournament with just the first place trophy. Rugby also won the Spirit Award. Santjer won the Coach of the Year award, while Scott Grochow was awarded Athletic Director of the Year. Rugby’s Bernhardt, Hamilton and Heidlebaugh and TGU’s Luna and Bacon made it to the all-district team along with Tristan Martin and Tanner Volson of the Raiders; Michael Thingstad of the Velva Aggies; Cory Poitra and Trace Azure of the Dragons; Colton Lund of the Sawyer Flashers; and Hunter Braaten and Ethan Miller of the Sioux.
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