Region 7 tournament destined to be a fight
The battle that begins Monday has been talked about for a year now.
Seven teams will walk away heartbroken while one experiences the thrill of what will no doubt be a championship and a trip to the Class B state tournament, which begins March 1 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, had to be earned.
Brace yourselves folks.
The Region 7 boys basketball tournament is here -- and it's bound to be every bit as exciting as anticipated. And don't forget, there's always a surprise or two.
"There's not a game in this tournament that's going to be a gimme," Dickinson Trinity head coach Gregg Grinsteinner said. "I don't care who's playing who. You've got to worry about one game at a time."
Last year, the underclassmen-led Titans were an unassuming champion.
This time around, No. 5-ranked Trinity (18-2) is a year older and one of the tournament favorites.
Then again, the same can be said for No. 8 Beulah (19-3), which beat the Titans in the District 14 championship game and has numerous players still around from its 2010 region championship team, including District 14 senior of the year Casey Duppong.
Because of an abundance of experienced upperclassmen that returned throughout the region this season, coaches knew this tournament was destined to be a fight. Seven of the eight teams are the same as last season and two quarterfinal games are rematches of last season.
"It's not a secret to anybody," said Beulah head coach Jeremy Brandt, whose team averages a region-best 72.7 points per game. "We've kind of always said, all along, that whoever gets out of the region tournament is going to have earn it."
To set the stage of how tough it could be to win Region 7, shakeups in the district tournaments have led to regular-season district champions Trinity and Mott-Regent (16-5) facing each other at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the quarterfinals.
Following that will be Beulah, which began the season ranked No. 1 in the Class B media poll, against New England.
The Tigers are District 13's No. 4 seed despite having a 16-5 record. There are four No. 1 seeds in region tournaments across the state with equal or worse records than New England. The five teams that have beaten the Tigers, including Beulah in the McLean County Invitational championship game in December, have a combined 88-18 record.
Tigers head coach Luke Powers said his team's seed speaks to the depth of the region and how interesting the tournament could turn out to be.
"I think that people in Region 7 know, because of the strong, competitive teams, there's going to be close, competitive games played that are going to be hard to predict," said Powers, whose Tigers lost to Beulah in last year's third-place game. "The team that wins three games in this tournament is definitely going to have to have a little bit of luck on their side"
Heart River, which kicks off the tournament against Killdeer (8-14) at 3 p.m. Monday, seems to be the hottest team coming into the tournament.
The Cougars (17-5) were the Region 7 runner-up last season and entered the District 13 tournament as the No. 3 seed. Heart River allowed an average of 39 points per game in its district tournament en route to the title.
"That's one thing that we're banking on," Heart River head coach Greg Pruitt said. "If we come out and give a good defensive battle, we know it's going to carry our offense through the games."
Killdeer, District 14's No. 4 seed, has the worst record of any region tournament team and doesn't own a single victory over anyone in the tournament. Pruitt said that's what makes the Cowboys a scary opponent.
"We teach our kids in our program to respect your opponent, no matter who that opponent may be," he said. "They're a scary team. It depends on which team shows up. We're preparing for a battle with Killdeer. We don't foresee anything other than a battle with them."
The quarterfinals conclude at 7:30 p.m. Monday with a pair of teams that have done their fair share of shocking opponents this season.
Bowman County enters as District 13's No. 2 seed after upsetting Mott-Regent in the District 13 tournament semifinals, only to fall to Heart River in the title game. The Bulldogs are 10-12.
Hazen is District 14's No. 3 seed. However, the Bison have a 17-4 record with three losses to Beulah (twice) and Dickinson Trinity.
Hazen scored a 74-41 win over Bowman County on Feb. 4, but Hazen head coach Randy Johnson said that means nothing now.
"One thing about Bowman is they do have some kids that can really shoot the basketball," Johnson said. "It's very, very critical that we get after them hard defensively so they don't get on a hot streak."
Johnson knows the streaky, though underclassmen-led Bulldogs can't be taken lightly with the junior guards and 3-point specialists Colter Braaten and Mike Palczewski.
"Our kids feel pretty good about the game," Bowman County head coach Gary Ballard said. "They're pretty excited about it. It's just going to be a matter of how we play. We've been a little inconsistent, but our kids are capable, if they shoot the ball well and play defense the way they're capable of."
All of the coaches, and many of their players, have been in this spot before.
Grinsteinner, whose Titans have won nine of the last 13 Region 7 championships, said everyone knows what they have to do to reach the state's version of the Elite Eight.
"You need to put three games together, but you better not look past the first day or you're going to be handing your uniforms in," Grinsteinner said. "You've got to be solid in every aspect of the game."