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Panthers ‘click’ at districts, win title

By Sue Sitter - | Mar 6, 2021

Submitted Photo Panthers guard Warren Walker takes a shot against the Drake-Anamoose Raiders at the District 11 tournament in Bottineau.

The Rugby Panthers have found their groove, just in time for tournaments.

After a season spent battling illnesses, injuries and the ever-present possibility of quarantine, the Rugby Panthers traveled to Bottineau High School Feb. 26 ready for the District 11 tournament.

One player, sophomore forward Brody Schneibel, still wore khakis and a sport shirt to the games, recovering from an injury suffered in January. However, 6’6″ forward Isaiah Bundy-Smith returned from sick leave just in time to contribute 31 total points across three games.

Top scorer for the tournament was senior guard Warren Walker, who scored an impressive 62 points for the games.

The Panthers found their toughest challenge in the tournament’s first round, when the TGU Titans kept pressure on the Panthers in four quarters. After the Panthers pulled ahead by six points in the first quarter, they increased their lead by another four before the Titans gained ground, thanks in part to Cy Luna, who scored 34 points for TGU in the game, more than any player on either team.

The Panthers fought hard for their lead, winning the game 60-51.

In the next two games, the Panthers’ scoring drive broke wide open.

The second day of the tournament was one for upsets. The Panthers faced the Bottineau Braves after a startling loss by the number one-seed Velva Aggies to the Drake-Anamoose Raiders.

The Braves showed why they had come into the tournament as the number two seed in the first quarter, which ended with a 23-19 Bottineau lead.

The Panthers gained ground in the second quarter when Walker and forward Cole Slaubaugh shot two buckets apiece, with Walker drawing two fouls and making good on two of three free-throws. Guard Trey Welstad and Bundy-Smith each sank three pointers, with the Panthers pulling ahead for good on a Bundy-Smith layup. The half ended with a 38-32 Panthers lead, and Rugby’s squad never looked back.

After sewing up a 78-50 win against the Braves, the Panthers advanced to the championship round against the Raiders.

Unlike their come-from behind game against the Braves, the Panthers dominated the Raiders from the start. By the third quarter, the Raiders lost steam and trailed 56-41. Meanwhile, the Panthers kept control of the court, putting an incredible 22 points on their total in the fourth quarter alone. The game ended with 78 points for Rugby again, this time to 49 points by the Raiders.

“I think the kids have been coming together pretty good as a team,” Head Coach Mike Santjer said after the tournament. “They’re clicking at the right time. We kind of had our game plan and we ran what we thought would work against them and then we were able to knock down open shots. It was pretty exciting to see them come out and play hard and then execute what we were trying to do.”

The Panthers travel to Minot March 8, where they face the Lewis and Clark-Berthold Bombers in the Minot Dome.

“We’ve played in the Minot Dome quite a bit,” Santjer noted. This is the first time we haven’t gotten to play our regular season game there. A lot of our starters and a lot of our older kids have been in there several times and played. It shouldn’t be too different of a thing for most of them. They should feel pretty comfortable there.”

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