CENTER - "I told you they're the team to look out for," New Salem-Almont coach Jerome Slag told a bystander Tuesday night. "They're not a sleeper anymore."
Indeed, fourth-seeded Grant County, with its 14-game winning streak and spanking new District 9 girls basketball championship, won't be sneaking up on anyone the rest of the season.
Grant County, down 10-0 at the start of the game and playing catch-up for most of three quarters, rallied in the second half to down Standing Rock 68-59 in Tuesday's district championship game.
The victory avenged a January loss to Standing Rock and sends the Coyotes into next week's Region 5 tournament as the No. 1 seed from District 9. Also advancing are Standing Rock, New Salem-Almont and Shiloh Christian.
New Salem-Almont defeated Center-Stanton 80-33 in one regional qualifying game earlier in the evening and Shiloh outlasted Flasher 51-41 in the other.
Grant County and Standing Rock seemed intent on packing 100 minutes of basketball into four quarters in the district final.
Both teams sped the ball up the floor at every opportunity.
Standing Rock was in command of the situation en route to a 41-35 halftime lead, but Grant County sprang to life in the third period. The Coyotes outscored the Warriors 18-9 for a 53-50 lead with a quarter to go.
The Coyotes never trailed in the fourth quarter, but Standing Rock didn't surrender, either. The telling blow came with 3:13 remaining when Standing Rock's Shauna Long, the district senior athlete of the year, fouled out battling for a rebound. Grant County led 61-55 at that point. The Coyotes put the game away in the final minute, scoring the final six points.
Grant County coach Nicole Bentz said she changed tactics in the second half. "We quit pressing. ... We played good half-court defense," she said. "We were in a box-and-one (chasing Long) in the first half and we went to a 2-3 zone."
Bentz said it was not her goal to try and force Standing Rock out of its normal up-tempo game.
"We pushed it right at them. We've been pushing the ball up the floor all year long," she said.
Ashley Bentz, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, took over the game in the second half. She scored 14 points after the break and finished with 26. In addition, she hauled down 18 rebounds and handed out four assists.
Ashley Bentz said the Coyotes had a score to settle with Standing Rock. In addition to the loss at Fort Yates earlier this season, there was the 2010 District 9 title game, another loss to the Warriors.
"We lost to them (in the district final) on our home floor last year" Ashley said. "We played well at Standing Rock in January and we knew we could beat them."
Although the Coyotes had been battling uphill most of the game, Ashley Bentz said they were ready to go after intermission.
"We weren't down," she said. "We knew they would come at us hard and they got in foul trouble. We just came together as a team and worked hard together."
The two major cogs in the Standing Rock offense, Long and Ryan White Bull, were both in foul trouble. White Bull finished with four personal fouls.
Behind Ashley Bentz in the Grant County attack came Chelsey Lince with 14 points and Sydney Bentz with 12. Sara Wells scored six points and grabbed six rebounds as the Coyotes controlled the boards 52-41.
Long took game scoring honors with 27 points, 20 in the first half. White Bull added 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Grant County 16 35 53 68
Standing Rock 21 41 50 59
GRANT COUNTY (68): Ashley Bentz 26, Sara Wells 8, Sydney Bentz 12, Chelsey Lince 14, Elesha Tatro 3, Kayla Seidler 5. Totals: 24-63 16-33 68.
STANDING ROCK (59): Ryan White Bull 20, Sadie Agard 3, Alexis Archambault 9, Shauna Long 27. Totals: 25-71 5-10 59.
3-pointers: GC 4-19 (S. Bentz 3, A. Bentz 1), SR 4-22 (Long 3, Archambault 1. Fouls: GC 12, SR 23. Fouled out: Archambault, Long. Technical fouls: Archambault.
Records: Grant County 18-4, Standing Rock 15-7.
New Salem-Almont 80, Center-Stanton 33
Top-seeded New Salem-Almont had little trouble in disposing of No. 7 Center-Stanton in a state qualifier, burying the Wildcats.
Post Emily Wolf led the NS-A attack with 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Sierra Henke and DeLayne Bueligen added 10 each for the Holsteins.
Ashley Vitek swished four 3-pointers and tallied 16 points for Center-Stanton.
NS-A, now 18-3, advances to the Region 5 tournament as the No. 3 seed from District 9.
NS-A 23 42 65 80
C-S 5 15 21 33
NEW SALEM-ALMONT (80): Timarra Klingenstein 15, DeLayna Bueligen 10, Emily Wolf 17, Karlie Schroeder 3, Sierra Henke 10, Holly Mutschelknaus 8, Karly Doll 5, Rebecca Valleroy 8, MiKaela Forster 4. Totals: 37-67 3-10 80.
CENTER-STANTON (33): Sabrina Dickinson 2, Mikayla Halone 8, Ashley Vitek 16, KaDee Berger 7. Totals: 14-35 0-5 33.
3-pointers: NS-A 3-10 (D. Bueligen 2, Klingenstein 1), C-S 5-9 (Vitek 4, Berger 1). Fouls: NS-A 8, C-S 12. Fouled out: Berger.
Records: NS-Almont 18-3, C-S 2-19.
Shiloh 51, Flasher 41
Shiloh led from wire to wire in securing its regional tournament berth.
Only four players scored for Shiloh, but Paige Emmel and Kelly Schindler contributed heavily, tallying 20 and 19, respectively. Schindler grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
Katelin Volk scored 11 points and hauled down 11 rebounds to pace Flasher.
Flasher 10 24 31 41
Shiloh 14 30 41 51
FLASHER (41): Samantha Lawson 4, Lindsey Ruscheinsky 6, Katelin Volk 11, Arika Schick 4, Callee Jo Schmidt 4, McKenna Schmidt 7, Ashley Friesz 5. Totals: 19-57 1-8 41.
SHILOH (51): Kelly Schindler 19, Emily Bader 3, Paige Emmel 20, Mikayla Forness 9. Totals: 17-50 11-14 51.
3-pointers: F 2-17 (M. Schmidt 1, Friesz 1), S 6-16 (Emmel 5, Bader 1). Fouls: F 15, S 11. Fouled out: C.J. Schmidt.
Records: Flasher 7-14, Shiloh 11-10.
District senior athlete: Shauna Long, Standing Rock.
Coach of the year: Jerome Slag, NS-A.
Athletic director of the year: Terry Bentz, Grant County.
Coaches' all-district team
New Salem-Almont - DeLayna Bueligen, Karlie Schroeder, Emily Wolf. Shiloh - Mikayla Forness, Paige Emmel. Standing Rock - Shauna Long, Ryan White Bull. Grant County - Ashley Bentz, Sara Wells. Flasher - Lindsey Ruscheinsky. Center-Stanton - Mikayla Halone. Solen-Cannon Ball - Kayanna Two Shields.