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Underwood

Underwood was oh close to playing in last year's Region 5 girls basketball tournament championship game.

The Comets held a 42-39 lead over District 9 champion Grant County late in their semifinal game, but the Coyotes took command with a quick 8-0 run and escaped with a 47-45 victory. Grant County went on to win the region championship two nights later, while Underwood settled for third place.

Four starters from that Underwood team returned this season and coach Jared Kautzman said last year's disappointment weighed heavily on their minds.

"We had a chance to play in the championship game and that was something a lot of people didn't expect from us," he said. "We had a lead late in that (semifinal game), but Grant County made the plays down the stretch and got the win. We were a young team last year and playing in a game like that was a good learning experience. It was still disappointing, though, but if anything it motivated us to get back to that position again and this time, close it out. Our girls had high expectations coming into the year. They're determined to take that next step."

So far, the Comets are living up to those expectations. They improved to 16-5 after defeating Wilton-Wing on Feb. 10 in the District 10 championship game. They hope to keep the momentum going in the Region 5 tournament, which begins today at the Mandan High School gymnasium. No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Shiloh Christian (21-0) will take on Center-Stanton at 3 p.m. in the first quarterfinal game of the day, followed by Wilton-Wing vs. Flasher, Underwood vs. Solen, and Grant County vs. Garrison. The semifinals are scheduled for Tuesday, and the third-place and championship games will be played on Thursday.

Underwood had a see-saw start to the 2017-18 season, splitting its first six games. After reeling off 11 straight victories, the Comets closed out the regular season with back-to-back losses to Grant County (53-42) and Center-Stanton (43-42), but bounced back with two impressive victories in the District 10 tournament -- 56-29 over Center-Stanton and 52-35 over Wilton-Wing.

"We put together a couple of good games in the districts and that gives us confidence heading into regionals," Kautzman said. "We played well on both ends of the floor, which is what teams need to do to have success in a tournament."

Underwood's five starters are seniors Mackenzie Snyder, McKenna Wilson, Kaylie Wilson and Maria Wirtz, and sophomore Taysha Snyder. Mackenzie and Taysha Snyder, McKenna Wilson and Wirtz were starters last year, while Kaylie Wilson was one of the first players off the bench.

Kautzman said Mackenzie Snyder, a four-year starter, is the team's sparkplug. The 5-foot-8 forward is averaging 18 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3.5 steals per game this season.

"Mackenzie really gets us going, especially on defense," Kautzman said. "She seems to make the big plays when we need them. She's a four-year starter so she brings lots of experience and leadership to the team. She was a little inconsistent before Christmas, but then the whole team was. She's been very consistent over the past couple of months."

Taysha Snyder is averaging 11 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 9 an outing.

McKenna Wilson, who is averaging 9.7 points, is the top perimeter shooter, sinking 44 3-pointers. Wirtz and Kaylie Wilson average 5.3 and 2.7 points, respectively.

Kautzman said defense and balanced scoring are the strengths of the team. 

"We've been pretty consistent on the defensive end. Since Christmas we've given up under 40 points a game," he said. "Offensively, we have a good mix of inside and outside scoring and that's something we didn't have much of last year. We usually have someone different stepping up at different times."

Kautzman considers Shiloh and Grant County the favorites this week.

But ....

"I think Shiloh and Grant County earned the right to be called the favorites, but you never know what will happen. Last year, Grant County was expected to be in the championship game, but we almost knocked them out," he said. "Anything can happen. We'll take it one game at a time and hopefully, we'll end up playing in the late game on Thursday."

The Region 3 tournament begins today in Jamestown. The tournament will feature four teams listed in the final Class B poll -- No. 2 Medina-Pingree-Buchanan, No. 4 Carrington, No. 6 LaMoure-Litchville-Marion and No. 7 Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier. Medina-Pingree-Buchanan is the District 6 champion, while Carrington took top honors in District 5.

Killdeer is the No. 1 seed in the Region 7 tournament, which starts today in Dickinson. The Cowboys, ranked No. 10 in the final poll, went 11-0 in region play during the regular season. Bowman County is the No. 2 seed.

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