Mandan might only be 1-1 in its last two games, but it's the best 1-1 in the state.
Coach Abby Thomas' Braves are playing some of the best basketball around as evidence by Tuesday night's thrilling 58-56 squeaker over No. 2-ranked St. Mary's. That win, coupled with the Braves' near-miss against No. 1-ranked Century seven days ago, vaulted Mandan (11-3) from No. 5 to No. 2 in the latest Class A poll.
Despite the win over the 13-3 Saints, and the gut-wrenching 72-69 loss to Century, Thomas senses no contentment within her squad.
"We've got a bunch of workhorses," she said. "These girls love to compete. They come to practice ready to work everyday and that's what I love about them. They're never satisfied. They always want to get better."
That's a little scary considering their recent run of play.
On top of beating St. Mary's, and doing everything but against the 15-0 Patriots, the Braves' other five wins in their recent 6-1 stretch are all by 21 points or more.
"We feel like we're playing better. The biggest thing is to continue to see that improvement each practice and each game," Thomas said. "In the WDA, if you're not playing your best, it's going to be a struggle every game."
Tuesday's top 5 tilt against St. Mary's lived up to the hype.
The Braves trailed 29-22 at halftime against the Saints' suffocating defense, but slowly chipped away in the second half.
"St. Mary's plays great defense. They're so big inside. They block a lot of shots. We knew it was going to be a very difficult game," Thomas said. "St. Mary's is an excellent team. We felt like we didn't play our best, but the girls played really hard and it was a battle right to the end."
Star junior Megan Zander came up big for the Braves with 23 points. Zander leads the West Region in scoring at more than 21 per contest. Kennedy Harris, the other half of the Braves' dynamic junior duo, was held to three points, but sophomore Lakyn Darras added 12 points and steady senior Courtney Olson netted 11. Darras also had a key steal late to help ice the win.
"The first time we played St. Mary's, Kennedy had 22 and Megan only had seven. Points are hard to come by against (St. Mary's)," Thomas said. "They make you work for everything. You don't get anything easy, but our girls kept trying to be aggressive and made a lot of good things happen both offensively and defensively in the second half."
With a month left in the regular season, Century (12-0), St. Mary's (11-2) and Mandan (9-3) have separated themselves from the pack. Bismarck (7-6) and Jamestown (6-6) are jousting for the 4 spot with the Blue Jays rolling to a big home win (63-49) over the Demons on Tuesday night.
Bismarck High gets the red-hot Braves on Friday night at Mandan High School, although Thomas said her team won't be looking past anybody.
"There are a lot of good teams out there. We try to take the same approach every game and that's to prepare well and respect every opponent," the Mandan coach said. "We want to keep building momentum and hopefully that will lead to some pretty important games as we get later in the season and into the tournaments."