Two years ago I was sitting on media row at the Class B boys state tournament in Minot, N.D. I took a panorama of the crowd inside the MSU Dome and was just mesmerized by all the people. I’m from Minnesota so I’ve been around big crowds but I was just stunned by the amount of the people packed in the gymnasium for the championship game against Hillsboro-Central Valley and Four Winds-Minnewaukan.
It’s the greatest scene in all of North Dakota. And that’s saying something because there are intense crowds at all the state tournaments.
Tonight, it’s Thompson and Shiloh Christian. Two teams that have been in the polls for the entire season. Two teams that are loaded with talent up and down their respected rosters.
The matchups in this game are going to be one to remember. You’ll have the Skyhawks’ Jaden Mitzel trying to shut down Hayden Overby and Trey Brunelle on Cadyn Schwabe.
Shiloh Christian won its first two games by a combined 21 points and Thompson is coming off a 68-65 overtime win over No. 4 Bishop Ryan. The Tommies defeated Ellendale 58-49 in the quarterfinals.
Everyone can talk about how private schools shouldn’t be in Class B but guess what? The Skyhawks have never hoisted up the championship trophy, however, neither has Thompson. At the end of the day one team is going back home with their first ever state title. And these two teams deserve to be here.
It’s going to be a hell of night and the MSU Dome without a doubt will be rocking. Will these two teams be rattled at first? Possibly but it's just another game of basketball and I’m certain Brandy George and Brad Miller will remind their teams of that.
Prediction? I might have some Region 2 bias but Thompson is a solid squad much like Shiloh Christian anyone can knock down game-changing shots at key moments. I’m going to say Thompson in a close one. I don’t think it’s crazy to think this game could go to overtime.
Both teams like all teams in this spot want it the most and I think they'll shot that in front of the entire state at 8 p.m.
Region 1 - #3 Richland (21-2): Richland is paced by one of the top players in Class B with junior Cole Myers averaging 18.2 points per game along with seven rebounds. Myers does an excellent job of getting to the basket but can also knock down shots from the outside. The Colts have four players that average in double-figures. Along with Myers, juniors Gavin Reiland (14.8) and Carter Lingen (13.7) and senior Hunter Lentz (10) are all averaging 10 points per game or more. Reiland is one of the best at finding his teammates for open shots and averages four assists per game and an impressive 4.8 steals per contest. Richland is heavy at the top with those four student-athletes and coming off the bench they have athletes but they don’t lean on them too much. Juniors Zach Wulfekuhle and Carson Anderson are averaging 2.5 points per game along with a pair of assists. The Colts have no trouble in scoring as they averaged 62.3 points per game in the Region 1 tournament. Fourteen times this season Richland has scored 70 points or more in a game. After suffering a 72-69 overtime loss to Central Cass on Jan. 18, Cody Reiland’s squad has won its last 14 contests. I’ve seen Richland play in person and they go fast. The Colts earned the No. 3-seed and will face Powers Lake at 2:45 p.m. Thursday.
How they got here: Richland outlasted Kindred 50-47 in the Region 1 tournament behind 20 points from Lingen.
Last time at state: 2006
Region 2 - #1 Thompson (23-1): On paper, this was Thompson’s year to get out of Region 2 for the first time in program history. They beat Hillsboro-Central Valley not once, not twice but three times this season and dethroned the back-to-back state champions. The Tommies are led by senior Hayden Overby who averages 19 points per game along with eight rebounds and 2.5 assists. Senior Marcus Hughes is Thompson’s 3-point threat as he’s knocking down 43 percent from beyond the arc. Senior guard Cadyn Schwabe wasn’t on the floor for the first part of the 2018-19 season after suffering an injury at the tail end of the football season but the Tommies floor general came back in January and the green machine has been rolling ever since. Seven student-athletes for Brandy George’s squad are averaging five points or more per game this year. This team can beat you multiple ways and twin towers in juniors Chance Danner and Clay Odenbach make for a nice one-two punch in the paint. Danner and Odenbach are averaging 7.8 and 9.3 points per game and combine for just over 13 rebounds per contest. Thompson is an all-around solid team as defensively they are holding opponents to 46.9 points per game. The Tommies received the No. 1-seed and should have no problem keeping their emotions in check at their first state tournament appearance.
Comment from coach: “We need to defend every possession, get stops and rebound,” George said. “If we can get our opponents to miss shots, that allows us to get into our transition and get the ball up the floor quickly. On the offensive end, we need to play with good pace. Staying active without the ball is going to be important for us. We simply need to "be who we are" on both ends.”
How they got here: Thompson beat Hillsboro-Central Valley 59-53 for the third time this season in the Region 2 title game. Overby finished with a game-high 26 points.
Last time at state: never
Region 3 - Ellendale (15-10): When you look at Ellendale’s record you’ll probably notice they don’t have as many wins as the rest of the field. However, they have one of the best guard-forward combos in the state with junior Hunter Thorpe and senior Austin Molan. The two student-athletes are averaging a combined 32.2 points per game for a team that scores 54.3 per contest. Brian Vance’s crew lost seven of nine contests during the middle of January into February but finished the year strong. The Cardinals lean heavily on controlling the tempo of the game and if they can do that against some of these other high powered offensive teams, they could have a good weekend. Other than Thorpe and Molan, Ellendale gets scoring out of freshman Scott Wagner. The 6-foot-6 center averages 9.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. The Cardinals are no stranger to the state tournament scene as they’ve been in the field two out of the last three years. Vance and company have a tall task in the quarterfinals with No. 1-seed Thompson on the other side of the court.
Comment from coach: “We are going to have to control the tempo and slow the games down a little bit, we like to the scores in the low 50's,” Vance said. “Rebounding and turnovers are going to be big also.”
How they got here: Ellendale defeated Carrington 56-47 in the Region 3 championship game after Thorpe scored 16 fourth quarter points
Last time at state: 2017
Region 4 - #5 New Rockford-Sheyenne (22-3): The third time was the charm for New Rockford-Sheyenne in the Region 4 championship game. Two of the Rockets three losses this season came against Four Winds-Minnewaukan but this time NR-S got the best of the Indians. Junior Bo Belquist leads the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game and four assists along with 5.8 rebounds. The Rockets also get quality scoring out of senior Teddy Allmaras at 15.2 points per game and junior Hunter Thompson at 12.6. NR-S isn’t the tallest team in the tournament but senior Tucker Longnecker leads the team in rebounding with 6.2. The Rockets play their best when multiple players get involved and have scored 80 points or more eight times this year. Defensively, Cook’s crew is one of the best as they are holding opponents to 53.3 points per contest. Three of the Rockets last four games have been decided by a combined 15 points. This squad has shown that in close games they can hold their composure and not fold. That will definitely help them on Class B’s biggest stage.
Comment from coach: “I think to be successful in the state tournament we need to keep playing unselfish like we have been all year long,” Cook said. “When we get four or five guys in double figures scoring is when we are at our best. We aren’t the tallest team in the tournament so rebounding with be a huge key for us. Also you know when you get to this tournament every possession is important so our defensive mentality must be zoned in at all times.”
How they got here: The Rockets got by the Region 4 favorite Four Winds-Minnewaukan 58-53 in the title game.
Last time at state: 2005
Region 5 - #2 Shiloh Christian (21-3): Shiloh Christian rolled through the Region 5 tournament with a 37-point win over Washburn, a 33-point win over Flasher and a 24-point win over New Salem-Almont. The Skyhawks have all the pieces to win three games in three days this week with most of their roster having state tournament experience. The highly talented multi-sport athlete Jaden Mitzel averages 19 points per game for a team that scores 66.6 per contest. The junior guard also is second on the team with eight rebounds per game and four assists. He and 6-foot-9 senior Macauley Young play a mean high-low game. Young averages 16 points per contest and a team-high 13 rebounds. What makes Shiloh Christian so tough is that Mitzel and Young aren’t the only two players that can score. Seniors Canann Fagerland and Matthew Reep are playmakers and junior Trey Brunelle can knock down some 3-point shots. This team just gels together so well that’s why I think they are one of the favorites to win this tournament. Everyone talks about how Region 5 isn’t super competitive but the Skyhawks had the toughest strength of schedule according to classbbasketball.com. After not finishing where they wanted to at the 2017-18 state tournament, Shiloh Christian has all the tools to bring home a title.
Comment from player: “We just need to work hard,” Mitzel said. “In the state tournament, everybody wants to win and everyone is going to work hard but it’s about the people and the teams who work harder and have grit. It’s not about who is taller or stronger, it’s about who wants it more with that grit. I think our team has that grit and we all are mentally and physically ready.”
How they got here: Shiloh Christian defeated New Salem-Almont 52-28 in the Region 5 championship game behind 25 points from Macauley Young and Jaden Mitzel.
Last time at state: 2018
Region 6 - #4 Bishop Ryan (22-3): After suffering a heartbreak overtime loss in the 2017-18 state title game, Bishop Ryan is back. The Lions are paced by two stellar senior guards in Mason Hedberg and Ben Bohl. Bohl leads the team with 24.4 points per game and 9.1 rebounds. Hedberg on the other hand averages 20.1 points per game with 8.2 rebounds. The two also have combined for 100 steals this season. The Lions lost some height off last year’s squad but they have still been able to outscore their opponents by an impressive 21.8 points. Bohl is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc and 58 percent from the field. Bishop Ryan also gets some scoring out of senior Chinaza Udekwe at 9.2 points per game. The Lions were dominated by Shiloh Christian (71-55) and Thompson (73-57) earlier this season but finished the regular season on a 13-game winning streak. Jeremy Feller’s crew didn’t win the District 12 championship after falling to Our Redeemer’s 52-51 but beat them by 38 in the Region 6 title game. Playing in their own backyard, the Lions will look to get back into that championship game.
Comment from coach: “We need to find a level we can play at for 32 minutes,” Feller said. “We have had some explosive quarters (Region Championship game second quarter 35 – 3, Regional first-round game first quarter quarter 33 – 8 and second quarter 25 – 6 and last district tournament game third quarter 21 -11 and fourth quarter 17 -4) over the last several games but now we need to find a way to be more consistent. For us to be successful this weekend we need to make defense our number one priority.”
How they got here: Bishop Ryan cruized past Our Redeemer’s 68-30 in the Region 6 championship game.
Last time at state: 2018
Region 7 - Beulah (19-4): Even though Beulah is making its second straight appearance at the state tournament, the Miners are a different squad. Other than freshman Trey Brandt, Beulah is rolling with guys that didn’t see a lot of playing time last season. One of the Miners go-to leaders and leading scorers senior Chad Morsette missed the tournament because of an ACL injury and second leading scorer junior Jonah Larson is new to the team this year. Morsette averages 17 points per game and Larson is pouring in close to 12 a game along with a team-high 10 rebounds. Sean Gierke and Shaye Yeager saw minutes last season but have taken on bigger roles this year. Brandt leads the team with 4.5 assists per contest and Gierke adds about four a game as well. On top of that he averages 8.4 points per game and five rebounds per contest. The Miners may not have received a seed but they are playing their best basketball right now. Since its Dec. 28 loss to Rugby, Beulah has rattled off 16 wins in its last 17 games including a 73-68 victory over Shiloh Christian — the team the Miners face in the quarterfinals.
Comment from coach: “For us to be successful we will need to continue to play good defense, that has been our calling card all year is our ability to defend well,” Brandt said. “We will need to have a good mix of inside/out on the offensive end, we have been at our best when we are able to get points in the paint which in turn opens things up for our perimeter players who shoot the three well. I feel that we are playing as well right now as we have all season long and hopefully that carries over into the state tournament. Even though we were at the state tournament last year we don’t have a lot of experience returning, Trey Brandt is really the only player we have back from last year they played heavy minutes, Morsette had a torn acl, Yeager and Gierke played just a few minutes and Jonah Larson is new to Beulah this year.
How they got here: Beulah out dueled Dickinson Trinity 48-46 in the Region 7 title game behind 15 points from Yeager.
Last time at state: 2018
Region 8 - Powers Lake (20-5): It was a rough start to the 2018-19 season for Powers Lake as they lost five of its first nine games. But then everything started to line up for the Ranchers. Jordan Carlson's squad won their final 16 contests and punched a ticket to the state tournament for the first time since 1939. Powers Lake's final starting lineup consists of two seniors, one junior and two sophomores. Seniors Kyle VanBerkom and Aiden Nordloef lead the way for this Region 8 team and the Ranchers get key contributions out of underclassmen Noah Fredrickson and Noah Schroeder.
How they got here: Powers Lake beat Mandaree 74-72 in overtime for the Region 8 crown.
Last time at state: 1939
#2 Shiloh Christian over Beulah
#3 Richland over Powers Lake
#1 Thompson over Ellendale
#5 New Rockford-Sheyenne over #4 Bishop Ryan
#2 Shiloh Christian over #3 Richland
#1 Thompson over #5 New Rockford-Sheyenne
#1 Thompson over #2 Shiloh Christian
2. Shiloh Christian
5. Powers Lake
6. New Rockford-Sheyenne
7. Bishop Ryan
When: March 4-7
Where: Betty Engelstad Sioux Center
No.1 Thompson (20-1)
No. 2 Hillsboro-Central Valley (18-3)
No. 3 Grafton (17-4)
No. 4 Larimore (16-5)
No. 5 Hatton-Northwood (16-6)
No. 6 Cavalier (14-7)
No. 7 Park River/Fordville-Lankin (8-14)
No. 9 North Border (11-11)
Who is the favorite?
Other than a mid-season hiccup, Thompson looked like the No. 1 team in Class B this season. And once senior Cadyn Schwabe entered the lineup after coming back from a football injury, the Tommies have been tough to slow down. This is a physical team with senior Hayden Overby setting the tone on every possession. The inside presence with Overby along with juniors Clay Odenbach and Chance Danner give Thompson opportunities at second-chance points with their rebound skills. Toss in the guard play by Schwabe and senior Marcus Hughes and this team has a good shot at getting to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
Hillsboro-Central Valley: This is a different Hillsboro-Central Valley team that won state in 2016-17 and 2017-18 but Elliot Rotvold and the Burros have the same expectations, which is to compete for a Region 2 championship. Besides juniors Carson Henningsgard and Landen Reed, the bulk of H-CV’s roster saw its first varsity action this year. Henningsgard leads the charge for a team that has shot more 3-pointers this season than in the past. The Burros don’t have the rebounding power that they did last season but that hasn’t stopped Henningsgard and company from beating top teams such as Kindred, Richland, Four Winds-Minnewaukan, Cavalier and Grafton. However, two of H-CV’s three losses have come at the hands of Thompson. If the Burros want to make their third straight trip back to state, they’ll need a big performance out of senior Jacob Heinitz and/or junior Patrick Limke. H-CV also has solid bench play with junior Oscar Benson, senior Colton Anderson and sophomore Sam Preston playing quality minutes.
Grafton: It’s been a sour end to Grafton’s regular season as they lost two of its final three contests to Thompson and Hillsboro-Central Valley. Senior Dalton Albrecht didn’t play against H-CV on Feb. 16 but played against the Tommies six days later. He’s the guy that makes the Spoilers roll and has scored 30-plus points in multiple games this season. Senior 6-foot-7 Beau Feltman is another important player for Grafton as he and Albrecht combined for 56 of the Spoilers 61 points against Thompson on Feb. 22. Grafton has the talent but getting scoring production from other players is going to be key.
Dark Horse Team
Cavalier: Cavalier started the season on a 10-game winning streak before dropping seven of its final 11. At one point during the season, I said the Tornadoes were a Top 5 team in Class B. Brady Laxdal’s squad is not in the same place right now as they were when the year started but tournament time allows them to hit the reset button. Cavalier has the talent to compete with any team in Region 2. The one-two punch that senior Conley Carrier and junior Andre Carrier present is dynamic to say the least. Junior Colton Ratchenski is a solid defender and adds some scoring and the Tornadoes have an energetic bench player in sophomore Brodie Cluchie. It’s not going to be an easy task for Cavalier as they’ll have to get past Grafton and then most likely H-CV to even reach the title game. But I wouldn’t count out a fired up Tornadoes group.
No. 1 Thompson over No. 9 North Border
No. 4 Larimore over No. 5 Hatton-Northwood
No. 2 Hillsboro-Central Valley over No. 7 Park River/Fordville-Lankin
No. 3 Grafton over No. 6 Cavalier
No. 1 Thompson over No. 4 Larimore
No. 2 Hillsboro-Central Valley over No. 3 Grafton
No. 1 Thompson over No. 2 Hillsboro-Central Valley