Rivalry builds with round 3
FORT TOTTEN – Big programs. Big players. Big gyms. These are defining qualities of two of the most dominant boys basketball programs in the state: the Rugby Panthers and the Four Winds-Minnewaukan Indians.
They’ve played each other in some of the biggest games of the past few seasons, and both teams are seeing the beginning of a rivalry.
“These are great games, especially before tournament time,” Four Winds coach Rick Smith said following his team’s 61-60 win Tuesday. “We’ve had quite a few hotly contested games. Them jumping on us last year and going back to the state tournament. Good games.”
Beginning in the opening round of the 2013 Class B boys state tournament, the Panthers played the Indians in a close game. A few big plays late – including a charging call that ended the Panthers’ rally – and the Indians came out on top with a win. Four Winds finished tournament runner-up.
Between the fan bases, a need to beat the other was sparked.
Late in last year’s regular season, Four Winds and Rugby began a home-and-home series. The first game in Rugby was a hard-fought game between the then-No. 1 Panthers and No. 2 Indians. Four Winds standout Trayvon McKay struggled that night and was haunted by a technical foul for most of the game. He had three fouls before halftime. The loud crowd proved to be a factor against both teams, as many loyal Indians fans made the trek to the Geographical Center of North America. The Panthers, capitalizing on the Indians’ poor shooting, took control of the game for a 76-66 win.
This season, there was an almost complete role-reversal.
The Indians had home-court advantage and the No. 1 ranking Tuesday as they welcomed the second-ranked Panthers. Like McKay the previous season, Rugby senior forward Brad Heidlebaugh had three fouls before the first half ended.
The first half was where the similarities stopped. The Panthers roared back with new life in the final six minutes, scoring 20 unanswered points to overcome a 19-point deficit late in the game.
But the comeback fell short. A late jumper from Tronis McKay, Trayvon’s brother, gave the Indians a decisive lead for the final 33 seconds of the game.
For the players, there were no hard feelings.
“Even though we lost, that was the most fun game of my high school career,” Heidlebaugh said. “We were looking forward to this game a lot. A 1-versus-2 doesn’t come around very often, and the fact it was the two of us again was huge. It had a crazy atmosphere.”
Said Smith: “We knew who their big three were. Bernhardt got past us a bit, but it was their four (Nolan Hovland) and five (Eric Hooker) who got into it.”
The stands were as packed as they could get by the end of the junior varsity game. Every time one team scored, it was followed by a loud cheer and thunderous applause.
“They’re a great crowd,” Santjer said. “They back their team to the bitter end, like ours. It’s just a ton of fun.”
The Panthers round out the regular season with a home game against Bishop Ryan on Feb. 17 and an away game in Maddock against Benson County three nights later. The Indians finish off the regular season with games against Warwick at home and two away games at Shiloh Christian and Dickinson Trinity.
This article ran in Thursday’s Minot Daily News.
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