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With sights set on state, Panthers advance to regional championship

By Sue Sitter - | Mar 13, 2021

The Rugby Panthers battle for the ball against the Berthold Bombers in the Region 6 quarterfinals at the Minot State University Dome. Grant Langseth/PCT

The Rugby Panthers prepared for an all-District 11 championship game at regionals after defeating the Berthold-Lewis and Clark Bombers and the Bishop Ryan Lions from District 12 at the Minot State University Dome March 9.

The Bombers were an unknown entity for the Panthers, who had never faced them in regular season play.

Panthers forward Isaiah Bundy-Smith sank the first bucket for the game, and along with guard Warren Walker, established a lead that would stay all game. Bombers forward Walker Wold struck back for the Bombers in the second quarter, putting three 3-point shots in the net and getting the Bombers within one score before the second half with a 23-20 deficit. The Panthers lagged behind in the second quarter with seven points scored.

After halftime, the Panthers exploded on the court with a 13-point scoring drive with buckets from Walker, forwards Cole Slaubaugh, Erik Foster and Bundy-Smith. Guard Trey Welstad found himself blocked by Bombers but sank two free throws after a foul by forward Orin Mollerud.

Walker drew more fouls in the fourth quarter. He sank six of seven extra point attempts in addition to two rebound shots. Guard Tim Mueller also made good on a trip to the foul line. Slaubaugh made good on two free throws and found an opportunity for a slam-dunk.

The game ended with a 57-47 Panther win.

Panthers coach Mike Santjer said, “Berthold is a good team and very well coached. We were able to weather some of there runs and got key baskets when we needed.”

Next up for Rugby in the semifinals were the Bishop Ryan Lions, a team the Panthers had battled to a 51-44 win at the end of their regular season.

The battle on the court went almost as it had when the teams met in Rugby Feb. 16. The Panthers scratched out a 16-13 lead by the end of the first quarter with a layup and two 3-pointers from Welstad and a bucket from Slaubaugh, both following the first score of the game, a 2-pointer from Bundy-Smith.

On the Lions’ side, guard/forward Brady Feller became a force to be reckoned with. He scored nine of Bishop Ryan’s 13 points.

The Lions would increase their lead to 32 thanks to Brady Feller, who with his brother Jaxon, figured prominently in Bishop Ryan’s offense. Brady Feller racked up 16 points from three pointers and layups in the second quarter alone. Jaxon sank a three point shot to put the Lions ahead 32-31 at halftime.

In the second half, the Panthers’ defense went to work. Welstad stayed on Brady Feller, closing him off from scoring opportunities. Meanwhile, Bundy-Smith sank two buckets and drew two fouls, sinking three of four free throw attempts.

More buckets came from Walker and Slaubaugh, whose 6-foot, 4-inch height and jumps helped his arms hover over the hoop. Refs disqualified two of his buckets during the game for interference when his eagerness at the board got the better of him.

The back-and-forth third quarter battle ended with a narrow 44-42 Panthers lead.

Slaubaugh continued sinking layups and rebounding teammates’ shots in the fourth quarter. Walker and Bundy-Smith also sank shots. Welstad stayed busy keeping Brady Feller blocked. Feller scored no shots in the fourth quarter.

Fouls against Panthers led to more free throw shots, and the Panthers totaled 19 points for the quarter. Rugby players stayed patient when they had possession and in control of the game’s pace. The Lions could do little to fight back.

The game ended with a 63-59 Panthers win.

“The game against Bishop Ryan was a true battle,” Santjer said after the win. “They are a very good defensive team and they put a lot of pressure on us. We had to make some defensive adjustment at half time to try and slow them down and it paid off,” he added. “Tonight was an example of a great team effort.”

Rugby’s rivals for the March 11 championship round, the Bottineau Braves, started regionals as the number four seed. They faced District 12’s number one -seeded Our Redeemer’s Christian High School’s Knights, knocking them out of competition in the quarterfinals with a 63-52 upset. The Braves then defeated District 11 rivals Drake-Anamoose 66-57.

Looking ahead to the game, Santjer said of the Braves, “They have been shooting really well so we need to make sure we contest their shots. We need to rebound really well and limit them to one shot per possession so we can go and have a good offensive possession.”

Results from the championship round will appear in the March 20 Tribune.

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