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Rugby stays perfect with OT win over Eagles

GRAND FORKS — For the No. 1-ranked Rugby Panthers, 3-point attempt after 3-point attempt was off the mark. Some weren’t even close.

But Rugby coach Mike Santjer didn’t hold up the stop sign.

“Our kids have the green light,” Santjer said. “We don’t often tell them not to shoot.”

So, the Panthers kept shooting. Eventually, one 3-pointer fell. And it was the biggest of the game as Tanner Bernhardt’s 3-pointer at the start of overtime lifted Rugby to a 64-58 win over New Town on Thursday night in the quarterfinal round of the North Dakota Class B tournament at the Alerus Center.

“We have good enough shooters,” Santjer said. “They obviously didn’t display that tonight. But we still have a lot of confidence in them.”

Bernhardt’s 3-pointer from the wing broke a 51-51 tie. And the Panthers seemed to break loose from there, opening a 60-53 lead with 1:53 to go.

Rugby led 44-41 after three quarters. But New Town, sparked by the inside play of Daryl Grady, grabbed a 47-44 lead with 6:03 to play. Grady’s putback with 1:44 to go gave the Eagles a 51-49 advantage but Rugby tied it with 39 seconds to go on two Zach Miller free throws.

The Eagles had two good looks at the basket in the closing seconds but couldn’t convert, which forced overtime.

For most of the overtime, however, the Eagles played without Grady and leading scorer Wayne Fox, as both fouled out.

Bernhardt had missed 11 straight from beyond the arc before connecting at the start of overtime.

“Every shooter has his slump,” said Bernhardt, who made six 3-pointers in the Region 6 title game. “I just kept my head up and kept shooting and one finally fell in.”

Rugby improved to 26-0. The Panthers trailed 30-25 at halftime, only the third time this season they trailed at the break. And it was the first time this season Rugby trailed in the fourth quarter.

But the Panthers managed to pull it out.

“Some of our guys were hanging their heads,” Santjer said. “But it’s not the time to hang your heads. You just won a game at the state tournament.”

Brad Heidlebaugh led Rugby with 22 points, followed by Zach Miller (18) and Jaedon Haman (16). Grady led New Town with 14, while Joe Baker finished with 13, including a 3-point shot from well beyond the half-court stripe to end the first quarter — a basket that found its way to ESPN’s SportsCenter. It was the top play of the night.

“We were the underdog,” New Town coach Chuck Hunter said. “We were the underdog even when we went into the region championship game. But coming into the game, our kids were really excited. You want to play against the best.”

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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