GRAND FORKS -- Jake Hagler doesn't rank his performance Thursday as one of his better ones.
"It was probably a little below average," said Hagler, a North Star junior said. "I didn't shoot very well. But a win is a win."
And, despite his struggles, Hagler was a key factor as North Star handed Grafton a 63-58 defeat in the quarterfinals of the Class B state boys basketball tournament.
The game was a rematch of last season's state championship, won by the Bearcats. North Star improved to 25-0 while extending its two-season win streak to 52 games.
Grafton dropped to 22-3.
Hagler finished 23 points, including the final 11 points scored by the Bearcats. He scored the game's final six points at the free-throw line.
"I love having the ball at crunch time," Hagler said. "I was hoping to get to the basket and create something, that the ball would start dropping. I practice free throws religiously."
Grafton, down 57-53, rallied behind Jake Hanson. The senior guard drove the lane for a basket, then was fouled while hitting a pull-up jumper from the left wing and hit the free throw for a 58-57 lead with 2:38 left.
Hagler, however, answered.
It was two free throws with 1:22 left for a one-point North Star lead, two more free throws with 22 seconds remaining, and two more free throws with 2.8 seconds left.
"When Jake gets to the free-throw line, you'd like to think he'll put them in," North Star coach Jeff Hagler said.
North Star's one-two punch was Jake Hagler and Daniel Grande, who scored 14 of his 24 points in the first half.
The Spoilers led 35-29 at halftime, closing the second quarter on an 18-5 run.
"Daniel carried us in the first half," Jeff Hagler said. "Jake was in foul trouble; we needed somebody to step up. Daniel pushed himself so hard that he was throwing up at halftime."
Grafton had its own one-two punch in Hanson and Adam Jiskra. Hanson finished with 28 points and Jiskra scored 20 as well as getting the defensive assignment of covering Hagler.
"Adam did a great job of defending him," Grafton coach Mike Hanson said. "But Hagler is a stud.
"Jiskra and Hanson played really well for us. But we needed more balance. I told the kids two things would win the game -- turnovers and rebounds. And down the stretch, we made turnovers and they seemed to get every rebound."
When Grafton went up 58-57, Mike Hanson said, "I had a good feeling. We'd put ourselves in a position to win. But I wasn't comfortable."
Neither was the Spoilers' offense, as Grafton went scoreless over the final 2:38.
"We stepped up and played some good defense," Jeff Hagler said.
NS 18 29 49 53
Grafton 13 35 46 58
NS: Grande 8-17 6-6 24, Hagler 6-14 10-10 23, Haugen 3-4 0-0 6, Larson 3-5 0-0 6, Braun 1-6 0-0 3, Weston 0-2 1-3 1. Totals: 21-48 17-19 63.
G: Hanson 10-24 5-5 28, Jiskra 8-13 4-5 20, Houdek 3-5 0-0 6, Lundquist 1-9 1-2 4, Contreras 0-3 0-0 0, Burns 0-0 0-0 0, Droog 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-54 10-12 58.
3-pointers: NS 4-14 (Grande 2-4, Hagler 1-2, Larson 0-2, Braun 1-4), G 4-23 (Hanson 3-14, Jiskra 0-1, Houdek 0-1, Lundquist 1-7). Total fouls: NS 12, G 16. Fouled out: Jiskra. Rebounds: NS 21 (Hagler 8), G 28 (Lundquist 7). Assists: NS 5 (Hagler 5), G 5 (Jiskra 2, Lundquist 2). Records: NS 25-0, G 22-3.
DeVillers is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.