Incredible rally falls short
FORT TOTTEN – Tuesday’s Class B boys basketball game between the state’s top-two ranked teams had just about everything a marquee matchup can have.
The battle between visiting No. 2 Rugby and No. 1 Four Winds-Minnewaukan included a 20-0 run for the Panthers in the fourth quarter and a last second 3-pointer for the win.
Brad Heidlebaugh’s off-balance turnaround jumper was off the mark and the top-ranked Indians (15-1) survived despite blowing a 19-point fourth quarter lead for a thrilling 61-60 win.
“We have to be able to adapt and finish ball games when it gets hard,” FW-M coach Rick Smith said. “You have to give (RHS) credit. They didn’t quit and battled from 19 down with about six minutes to go.”
Senior stars Heidlebaugh and Four Winds’ Trayvon McKay had three fouls apiece early, leaving a large chunk of the game to role players on both sides.
McKay’s younger brother Tronis, a sophomore reserve, was the biggest boost with his game-winning jump shot in the lane with 33 seconds remaining.
“When Bernhardt made that 3, I just tried to stay calm and collected,” said Tronis McKay, who finished with 12 points.
RHS senior Tanner Bernhardt had just capped a hair-raising 20-0 run with a 3-pointer to give RHS (15-2) its only lead of the game at 60-59 with 57 seconds remaining.
The Panthers had plenty of time for a response to Tronis McKay’s shot, but that answer proved elusive. The right opening failed to appear with the shot clock turned off and RHS was forced into a timeout with 13 seconds left. The first inbounds pass was tipped out before Heidlebaugh caught the second and worked his way along the baseline. He missed a pair of short shots contested by a physical Indian senior in Cody Fassett.
The Indians corralled a rebound, but were whistled for traveling, giving the ball back to RHS on the baseline with four seconds left.
The pass was knocked beyond the arc by a Four Winds player, leaving Heidlebaugh with enough time for a catch, spin and shoot from the deep right wing. The ball bounced off the right side of the rim.
“It was good to see us take some pride in all the hard work we do,” RHS coach Mike Santjer said. “We were trying to get Brad and Zach in some pick-and-roll action. Brad got to the hole, he just didn’t make it.”
Santjer was left with optimism after seeing his team’s wild rally facing a 59-40 deficit with 6 minutes, 18 seconds left.
Trayvon McKay had a huge third quarter with 11 of his team-high 17 points. The Indians shared the ball well and confidently set up bench players for 3-pointers, including one from senior Darwin ThreeIrons with two second left in the third quarter.
Heidlebaugh was saddled with his third foul on a double-foul with Trayvon McKay in the first quarter. RHS senior Nolan Hovland, the team’s top defender, carried the offensive load with half of his game-high 22 points coming in each half. He even hit a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter comeback.
“We just wanted to make sure to run the offensive through more and take good shots and make sure we rebounded defensively to prevent second chances,” Hovland said.
Heidlebaugh and McKay stayed foul free in the second half.
The Panthers’ only other loss was a one-point defeat to Beulah in December. Both losses ended with RHS possessions.
Both coaches shared the same sentiments they had following last year’s regular season showdown, where the rankings were flipped. RHS won that game and the coaches talked again Tuesday about hoping to see each other again in Saturday come March.
Smith called it a “big lesson” for his boys, but a rematch will likely bring similar game plans.
“I think we attack the same way, defend the same way,” Smith said. “We just have to be smarter at the end.”
This article previously ran in the Minot Daily News.
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