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The championship round of the District 11 Girls Basketball tournament looked to be a rematch of last year between the Velva Aggies and the Rugby Panthers.
And just like last year, the Panthers walked away with the “w”.
“When [the Aggies] came to our place a couple of weeks ago I did not think we played our best defense. We needed our posts to get involved and tonight (sophomore forward) Maddie Uhlenkamp and (junior center) Breanna Thompson got involved in a big way. And our press really did some damage. Overall a great defensive effort,” said Panthers head coach and District 11 Coach of the Year Jen Brossart.
The Panthers defeated the Nedrose Cardinals, 85-16, and the Bottineau Stars, 59-25, to advance to the championship round, while the Aggies defeated their opponents, the TGU Titans (55-52) and the Sawyer Flashes (48-44) in very close matches to advance.
Rugby opened with senior forward Ashley Schmaltz feeding the ball to Uhlenkamp, and then to Thompson for an inside jumper. The Aggies didn’t have a response until the 6:20 mark, with an inside from senior forward Shalyn Fevold. The Panthers defense held the Aggies to just one other point on the quarter, coming off a 1-for-2 trip from the line for junior guard Jonnah Lee. The Panther offense led on the quarter with 13 points, 3 of them coming from a wicked outside shot from senior guard and athlete of the year Shea Heidlebaugh. Heidlebaugh also sunk an inside shot in the final seconds.
Aggies senior guard Nicole Fladeland got the first points of second quarter. Schmaltz responded less than 30 seconds later, getting a rebound after missing an attempted 3-pointer. Schmaltz was sent to the charity strip one minute later.
The Aggies found some footing outside, with freshman guard Hope Brewer hitting her first of three 3-pointers on the night with 1:38 left in the first half. The Panthers would still have the lead, with Uhlenkamp and Thompson scoring from inside within a minute of each other.
Aggies sophomore guard Greta Florence opened the second half with her 2 points on the night. Thompson shot back at the 5:36 mark, along with a long 2 from Heidlebaugh. Panthers freshman jumper Maria Blessum then got the rebound from Thompson missing two at the line.
With 1:32 left in the third quarter, Brewer hit her second 3-pointer, and her third a minute later. Uhlenkamp closed out the quarter from inside.
Fevold opened the fourth quarter from the free throw line. The Panthers were sent to the line on two possessions afterward, with Schmaltz missing two and Uhlenkamp going 1-for-2. Fladeland then hit an outside jumper, and Fevold hit inside a minute later.
The Panthers then had a 3-point play from Schmaltz, followed by a second 3-pointer from Heidlebaugh. Uhlenkamp later went 3-for-4 on two trips to the line. The Panthers sealed the deal with a jumper from Blessum with less than a minute to go.
“There’s a reason they’re number 4 in the state,” said Aggies head coach Chris Braaten. “They have a nice squad, they have balance at all positions, they’re fundamentally sound. Playing here at home they have a lot of energy, they’re very comfortable in their environment, so a lot of things in their favor. But they’re a good team, and good teams find a way to win there.”
The Panthers open Region 6 tournament play Monday at 3 p.m. at the Minot Municipal Auditorium against the fourth seed from District 12, the Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers. Brossart said that in between, the team will get back to basics.
“There’s not a lot between now and then that we can really do to recreate the wheel, so we really have to sit down and focus on what we’ve been doing all year and just really get the finite details figured out,” Brossart said. “These girls, they don’t want to be done, they want to make this a 3-game tournament and they want to give it their best shot at the end to win it.”
Velva punched its ticket and will face the third seed from District 12, the Lewis & Clark-Berthold Bombers. Braaten said the Aggies will also focus on the basics during practices.
“You got to build back to the fundamentals and take care of the little things, that if you don’t do those correctly then it ends up hurting you,” Braaten said.
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