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Kovacs, Midgets top Coyotes in play-in game

Press Photo by Meaghan MacDonald Dickinson High junior forward Meryl Kovacs, left, drives for a layup against Williston during the West Region play-in game on Thursday at DHS gymnasium.

Win and move on, lose and the season is over.

The Dickinson High girls basketball team faced a do-or-die situation with its West Region play-in game against Williston Thursday at DHS gymnasium.

It was a battle for both teams but the Midgets hung on in the final seconds to beat the Coyotes 52-50 and move onto the West Region Tournament. It was the third time this season Dickinson defeated the Coyotes.

“It was a really close game, I’m just glad we stayed strong at the end and didn’t give up,” Dickinson senior forward Sydney Gangl said with a big smile.

Junior forward Meryl Kovacs added: “We really wanted it, we really wanted to get to WDA so we knew we had to come out strong and let the nerves go when we started and stuff.”

Dickinson (5-15) desperately tried to hang on to its four-point, 29-25, halftime lead. Kovacs hit her layup and foul shot to put her team up 32-25, tying its biggest lead of the game. The junior forward finished with game-high 20 points and six rebounds.

With 12 minutes, 37 seconds left, Williston junior guard Amanda Nelson drained a 3-pointer to put the Coyotes up 35-34. The one-point was its first lead since the closing minutes of the first half. Nelson, along with sophomore guard Jensen Clarke, finished in double digits for Williston with 12 and 15 points, respectively.

“They definitely played some hard defense on us and we just had to move the ball around and get good shots and not throw the ball away and limit our turnovers,” Gangl said, who finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.

The teams exchanged leads until the final two minutes of the game. With 1:58 left, Kovacs was fouled on her layup and sank her shot, making it a slim 51-49 lead. Just 34 seconds later, Kovacs made one of two from the free-throw line for the team’s final point.

Dickinson held on in the final seconds to defeat the Coyotes (3-17).

The winner of the game was decided at the free-throw line. Williston went 9 for 22 (41 percent) while the Midgets went 15 for 22 (68 percent) and Kovacs chipped in eight of her 13 attempts.

“Meryl Kovacs really put us on her back tonight,” Dickinson head coach Dan Pender said. “She did a lot of things great at the post and getting 20 points, but she had six rebounds and the biggest key is she had to play 32 minutes tonight. She didn’t get a break very often … Meryl just responded.”

Although the season is officially over for Williston, head coach Josh Wastvedt said there has been a vast improvement in his team since last season and their future is bright.

“This is night and day from last year,” he said. “Last year we lost the play-in game by 30. This year, every game we’ve been competitive … The change is there, the improvements are being made and now we just need to keep moving forward.”

Dickinson is now the No. 8 seed entering the West Region Tournament. The Midgets will play No. 1-seed Bismarck High at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Bismarck Civic Center.

Pender said at this point, the pressure is off and his girls can take the court, just play basketball and have fun.

“No one expects anything out of us, we can just go play and play hard and see what happens,” he said.

W: Jensen Clarke 15, Amanda Nelson 12, Emily Lysne 9, Shelby Njos 7, Maria Menenko 4, Keaton Ell 3

D: Meryl Kovacs 20, Sydney Gangl 10, Riana Cooper 9, Raegan Linster 8, Sierra Rohr 4, Riley Cooper 1

Half: 29-25. 3-pointers: W 7 (Clarke 3, Nelson 3, Ell 1), D 3 (Gangl, Riana Cooper, Linster 1). Free throws: W 9-22, D 15-22. Total fouls: W 17, D 18. Fouled out: W, Semoenko; D, Lillie Meduna. Rebounds: W 44 (Lysne 7), D 45 (Kovacs 6). Assists: W 11 (Njos, Nelson 3), D 14 (Gangl, Meduna, Linster 3). Steals: W 10 (Clarke 3), D 3 (Riana Cooper 2). Blocks: W none, D none. Turnovers: W 15, D 18. Records: W 3-17 D 5-15.

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.