Panthers beat Bearcats
GRAND FORKS – Brad Heidlebaugh threw down a pair of thunderous two-handed slam dunks in the second quarter and the momentum stayed with No. 1 Rugby.
The Panthers (27-1) shook off a rusty shooting performance in the opening round and powered by North Star for a 54-44 semifinal win March 7 at the Alerus Center.
“It’s a real big booster,” Heidlebaugh said of the dunks. “It really gets our crowd and everybody riled up and gave us some good momentum going into the half.”
Heidlebaugh and junior Tanner Bernhardt shared a team-high 16 points. Bernhardt’s shooting woes from the first round (1-for-13) dissipated as he hit a 3-pointer in each quarter.
Rugby senior Chris Hamilton scored his first points on a 3 with five seconds left in the half and opened the second half with another triple to give his team a 29-19 lead. North Star answered with a 3, but Bernhardt drilled his third from behind the arc seconds later and the Panthers held a double-digit lead for nearly the whole half.
“It feels really good right now,” Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. “It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of time and effort, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s so fun. I’m so proud of these guys. They did a phenomenal job tonight.”
North Star (19-8) worked a 13-point deficit down to eight on three occasions in the fourth quarter, but Rugby raced ahead in transition at every opportunity.
“It seemed like every time we did get a little something going they answered,” North Star coach Jeff Hagler said. “That’s the sign of a good ballclub.”
Junior guard Alex Weston was rolling for the Bearcats, but didn’t receive much help as he scored 12 of the team’s 19 points in the first half. Weston finished with a team-high 20 points and classmate Christian Kvilvang scored 11.
Bernhardt hit a 3 to give the Panthers a 48-36 lead with four minutes remaining.
“I just gotta keep shooting,” Bernhardt said. “That’s what good shooters do and I try to do that and tried dishing off to my teammates and it worked out tonight.”
Heidlebaugh grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and junior Zach Miller posted 10 points and 10 boards.
North Star will return its entire starting five (three juniors, two freshmen) next season.
“Of course, when you get to this point you want to win, no doubt about it,” Hagler said. “But I don’t think anybody expected us to be at this point. We could’ve pretty easily gave up a couple times tonight.”
Fargo-Oak Grove 76, Linton-HMB 68
Christian Adams scored 17 of his game-high 29 points in the first half to lead No. 2 seed Fargo-Oak Grove past a stingy Linton-HMB squad in the first semifinal.
Linton took a 2-point lead on a 3-pointer from sophomore Erik Holzer with two minutes left in the third quarter, but the Lions couldn’t keep pace with the stronger Grovers.
Oak Grove junior guard Carter Kretchman scored 18 points and sank a 3 with 1:37 remaining to give his team a 67-60 lead. Linton threw the ball away on the ensuing possession and Adams coasted for a 3-point play.
Junior guard Johnathon Purintun led Linton with 19 points and classmate Ryan Schneider had 15.
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