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 Century guard Lilly Keplin said she has a shirt that says something like "shoot until you're hot, and if you're hot keep shooting."

 For Century's sake, it's a good thing Keplin, a 5-foot-7 junior, adheres to that maxim.

 Keplin didn't sink a field goal in the first half of Saturday's girls West Region championship game at the Event Center. After the break she found the range, bombing in four three-pointers and 18 points to lead the top-seeded Patriots to a 71-58 victory over Mandan.

 "My dad tells me that (shooter's shoot) every day and so does my coach," Keplin said. "I want everything in rhythm and sync, but confidence is a lot of it, too."

 Keplin's most telling treys found the target in the middle of the second half amid a 12-3 run that enabled the Patriots to put the game out of reach.

 Century led 57-52 when she connected with 7:25 to play. The ball hit the rim and, after three high hops, dropped through. Courtney Olson of Mandan missed a 3-pointer on the other end, giving Keplin the opportunity to swish another 3-pointer with 6:57 on the clock. That opened a 63-52 CHS lead.

 The Patriots got off to a fast getaway, outscoring Mandan 12-2 out of the blocks. CHS led by 10 points on four different occasions before Mandan got going. A 14-7 burst enabled the Braves to take a 38-37 lead with 1:29 remaining in the first half, which ended in a 40-40 standoff.

 A perimeter shot by junior guard Kennedy Harris enabled Mandan to take its final lead at 46-45 with 15:36 on the clock. Senior CHS guard Katelyn Selensky responed with a 3-pointer and the Patriots were in the lead to stay.

 Selensky's shot ignited a 20-6 CHS run that put the Patriots in charge 65-52 with 6:09 to play.

 Century scored just 31 points in the second half, but limited Mandan to 18 on just 7-for-25 shooting with its man-to-man.

 "We locked in on defense in the second half. When your defense is playing well it creates offensive opportunities," Keplin said. 

 Keplin's stat line for the night included 20 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

 She attributes the rebounds to aggressiveness.

 "I use my body to advantage. I'm a little bit bigger than a lot of the players in North Dakota," she said.

 With 6-4 sophomore Lauren Ware yanking down 10 rebounds, Century controlled the boards 37-26. CHS shooters connected at a brisk 50 percent pace to Mandan's 36 percent. What marred the Patriot were 20 turnovers to Mandan's 15.

 Century coach Ron Metz said Century had stronger legs in the latter stages of the game. He noted the Patriots won handily in the semifinals, while Mandan had to grind out a two-point win over St. Mary's. Also, Metz got 52 minutes out of his bench on Saturday to Mandan's 39.

 "We were able to run kids (from the bench) out there, and that kept us fresher in the second half," he noted.

 Mandan coach Abby Thomas said the loss, the Braves' third of the season to Century, left a sting.

 "It's heartbreaking to lose, but we have to remember that we have another week to adjust and get better," Thomas said. "... We had pretty high expectations going into this game."

  Mandan began relying heavily on 3-pointers with Century up 60-51 with almost seven minutes to play.

 Thomas said that instinct is related to an intense desire to win.

 "When we get down we have such good athletes that they want to take it upon their own shoulders. ... They take on a lot of responsibility, and that can be good and bad," she observed.

 Century, 23-1, will take on West Fargo Sheyenne, 17-7 in the opening round of next week's state Class A tournament in Fargo. Mandan, 18-6, will play Devils Lake, 18-6, in the first round.

(Steve Thomas is a Bismarck Tribune sportswriter).


Sports Reporter