Miners knock Panthers
51-50. This is the score that cost the Panthers a possible undefeated season. The numbers shone on the scoreboard above the many disbelieving fans who made the hour-long trek to support their team as they played at the Minot State University Dome.
Even from the start of the game, things didn’t look good for the top-ranked Panthers. In the first few minutes of the game, the Miners went on a 15-2 tear and put the Panthers in a hole they never crawled out of. At the end of the first half, Beulah was up 15 points.
“We had a lack of hustle,” Panthers head coach Mike Santjer said, “and Beulah came out ready to go and worked us for the first 16 minutes of the game. We gotta get in better shape and be tougher. We need to work as a team better.”
But the Panthers weren’t going to roll over. In the third quarter, they were showing glimmers of their usual performance. They outscored the Miners 12-5 and upped their game on defense. Seniors Brad Heidlebaugh and Zach Miller each scored six points to help close the gap.
“The third quarter has been our quarter for a few years now,” Heidlebaugh said. “We came out aggressive and ready to play. But we got out-hustled and out-played in the first half. You can’t do that against a team like Beulah.”
“It was crunch time,” Miller said. “We knew we had to focus and we knew we had to score.”
The rally carried over into the fourth quarter and was a one-point game as it entered the final minute. Rugby turned the ball over and Beulah brought it down the floor, and missed a critical shot. Rugby took the ball back after a shot clock violation with 25 seconds left. Rugby called a timeout with 19 seconds left. Then again with five seconds on the clock. The ball was put into play and a shot was put up. As the buzzer sounded, the ball bounced off the rim as the refs took off running.
“It hurts,” Miller said. “It always hurts to lose, but after last year, it’s just hard to lose again.”
The game may have been the wake-up call the Panthers needed. The next closest game Rugby had played this season was against Harvey-Wells County in the semifinal round of the CNDC tournament. That game ended in a 72-46 blowout.
“Hopefully it lights a fire,” Santjer said. “Hopefully we don’t have to go through this again.”
The loss might have also cost the Panthers their No. 1 ranking. For some players, it may come as a relief and take some pressure off. But for the seniors, it simply stings.
“Sure, it takes pressure off,” Miller said. “But it doesn’t make losing any easier.”
“I hold myself and my team to high expectations,” Heidlebaugh said. “I wanted to finish the whole season as No. 1, go undefeated, and cap off a great year. But everything isn’t perfect, and we just need to move on and focus on the next game.”
From the Rugby locker room, not a sound was made. The silence wouldn’t be broken until the doors were opened. In contrast, you could hear the Beulah locker room thumping in celebration from the beat of music.
“We knew they were pretty good,” Miners head coach Jeremy Brandt said over the whooping of the excited Beulah players. “We’ve seen them before, at this event and the state tournament. We knew Heidlebaugh would be tough to guard. We knew Tanner Bernhardt was a great perimeter shooter, and the Miller kid would be a tough one because he’s so tall. But we went out and did it and played extremely well in the first half. I was worried about playing in a place this big. But after making the first few shots, we got confident and that’s what carried us through their rally and on to a win. They’re a great team, and we’ll definitely be seeing more of them towards the end of the season.”
Heidlebaugh was the point-leader for the Panthers, scoring 25 on the night. Miller scored 15, Bernhardt 6 and Hunter Allickson 2. On the opposite side, Casey Wackler scored 17, Jett Hettich 15, Josh Remmick 7, Luke Blood 6, Calvin Aichele 4 and Reece Hoherz 2.
Rugby plays its next game and home opener against the Harvey-Wells County Hornets on January 5.
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