Pressure free throws, clutch long-range shooting, key defensive stops … and even some late-game cramping. Mandan and Minot’s instant classic had a little bit of everything.
But for the Braves, there was even a little more – a trip to the Class A state tournament.
Four straight throws in the final 20 seconds lifted Mandan to a 72-69 state-qualifying victory over three-time defending state champion Minot.
“I can’t even tell you how much it means. It’s crazy,” said Mandan senior star Trae Steckler. “All these people from Mandan were behind us, like always. At school in the hallways our classmates were giving us a ton of support. Even, for example, at Mandan Walmart people would stop me and say, ‘Hey, we gotta get back to state and you guys can do it.’
“I wanted to be remembered, my teammates wanted to be remembered as a team that went to state. I’m just happy for everybody in Mandan. It’s a great day.”
It did not come easy.
After losing in the opening round to Jamestown on Thursday, Mandan had to go through second-seeded Bismarck and then Minot.
It took a pair of clutch free throws with cramps to make it happen.
Down 69-68 with 20 seconds left, Elijah Klein coolly canned the first of two free throws, but nearly went down when a cramp knotted up in his calf. After some quick stretching, the 6-foot-9 sophomore also sank the second.
“Yeah, I started cramping in my calf, it didn’t feel very good there for a couple seconds,” he said. “I just tried to stretch it out the best I could. I had to stay confident and stick to my routine … and hopefully make it.”
It was another monster game for Klein. The super sophomore piled up 28 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot.
“Minot is a great team, true champions,” Klein said. “We knew it’d be an incredibly difficult game. It’s a great feeling. I’m just so happy for our team that we were able to pull it out.”
Minot surged late as sophomore Jaxon Gunville put on a highlight show from deep, the second coming from behind the NBA line to put the Magi ahead 69-66 with 85 seconds left.
But Mandan scored the last six points, all on free throws. Trey Wiest, Klein and then Steckler in succession, the final two coming with just three-tenths of a second left.
“Coach (Brandon Schafer) said, ‘I don’t know why you guys always do it the hard way.’ I guess that’s just the path we had to take,” said Steckler, who totaled 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. “To beat Bismarck and Mandan, two great teams, to get to state? Wow, what an amazing way to do it.
“We earned it. We can definitely say that.”
Camren Steckler added 11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists for the Braves, who play Fargo Shanley on Thursday at the Sanford Health Complex in Fargo at 4 p.m.
Chandler Albertson led Minot with 23 points. Gunville added 17, making 5 of 7 from deep, as the die-hard Magicians ended with a record of 18-6.
St. Mary's 68, Dickinson 55
From play-in game to Fargo, St. Mary's is going to state.
The Saints blitzed Dickinson early and often in the second state-qualifier on Saturday en route to a 68-55 win.
St. Mary’s scored 27 of the first 33 points of the game and never looked back in erasing memories of a subpar regular season.
After having to win a play-in game just to get into the West Region tournament, the Saints upset second-seeded Bismarck on Thursday to set up their surprising run to state.
"Right after our play-in game, coach (Brent De Kok) told us our record resets," said senior standout Cole Gendreau. "We were disappointed by our regular season. We knew we were a better team than that. To make this run like we did, I think, shows what kind of team we really are."
The Saints, who face East Region champion West Fargo Sheyenne on Thursday at 6 p.m., ended any doubt early against the Midgets.
A flurry of 3-pointers -- Gendreau, Ben Schmidt, John Nordberg and Jaxon Wiseman each had one -- staked the Saints to 9-0 and 19-6 leads. For most of the game St. Mary's led by more than 20.
Nordberg (18) and Kambeitz (16) combined for 34 points. Gendreau and Nordberg had three assists each for the Saints, who lost to Jamestown in the semifinals on Friday, but didn't waste their chance on Saturday.
"We whiffed (Friday) night, but we made up for it today," Gendreau said.
It was a prophecy foretold, Gendreau said.
"Our eighth grade year when St. Mary's was playing in the state semifinal, coach DeKok came up to me, Kambeitz and Nordberg and said, 'You're next,'" Gendreau recalled. "Well, uh, we're next."