With the regular season beginning the final stretch, every outcome plays a major role leading into the regional tournament, with upsets beginning to take place. The Mott-Regent Wildfire, a team that has had a balanced season leading up to its matchup against Trinity, was ready to play to the best of its abilities on Tuesday, which resulted in the biggest upset of the season for boys basketball on the Western Edge.
After the Titans led Mott-Regent by 10 points in the first quarter, the home team lived up to its mascot name and ignited a flame that would go on to upset one of the best teams in the western edge and create a wildfire with other teams learning of the major upset.
“We feel good, we’re excited,” Wildfire Head Coach Nate Zachmann said. “We threw everything we could at Dickinson Trinity and credit to our kids for executing what we had game plan."
The Wildfire came onto its home court with a 3-3 record in Class B Region 7 and 9-7 overall and were prepared to battle against No. 3 Trinity and its army of Titans. Trinity came into the game with a 6-1 record in regional play and 15-2 overall.
Needless to say, the Titans were heavily favored prior to tip off and lived up to the prediction by playing solid defense and taking a 16-6 lead going into the second quarter.
Mott-Regent did not waiver and continued to pressure the Titans into making strong usage of its shooting opportunities. Although the Titans held a 22-14 lead at the half, the Wildfire went into the locker room with confidence knowing it had outscored the Titans 8-6.
With the second half about to get underway, and the team down by nearly 10 points to one of the best teams in Class B, Zachmann and his team decided to make a gamble on a defensive adjustment with a 1-3-1 and a triangle and two. If it worked, it could bring them back into having a chance to win, if it failed, the Titans could break the lead open.
“I had something in my back pocket, I looked at the guys and asked ‘is this something you guys want to do?’ And they looked at me and said ‘yeah, coach, let’s go for it,’” Zachmann recalled.
There was no thought of, ‘this had better work,’ Mott-Regent knew it was going to work and ran its defensive schemes to perfection. The Titans began to heavily struggle in the defensive pressure, losing communication and missing scoring opportunities which ignited the entire Mott-Regent basketball gym.
The Wildfire torched the hardwood, hitting bucket after bucket, especially inside the painted area underneath the basket. Its strong defense forced Trinity to limited scoring chances. By the end of the third quarter, Mott-Regent had outscored Trinity 19-7 and took 33-21.
The entire gym was so loud that the buzzer only blended into the cheers of the happy fans in the stands as the players celebrated its hard-working third quarter.
As for Trinity, the players were just like their head coach Greg Grinsteinner, calm and composed. After all, there was still more basketball to be played.
After suffering a lackluster third quarter, the Titans once again began to charge against Mott-Regent, which was starting to run out of energy. The Titans were no longer allowing the Wildfire to get good shooting opportunities and began to push the action in the paint, getting to the free throw line more often.
Trinity may have outscored Mott-Regent 9-5 in the third, but its comeback was just enough to force an extra few minutes of overtime basketball with the score tied at 38. For Mott-Regent, the team was down after giving up a solid lead against a very good team, but the team still had confidence knowing it was going into overtime instead of going into the locker rooms.
“The mindset is just taking care of each possession, valuing the ball, value the possession, know what is going on, and we were switching up our defense pretty regularly,” Zachmann said.
With tip off just moments away, both teams running on adrenaline, the fans in the stands giving the feeling of this being a regional tournament game with its resounding intensity. Both teams were quiet but their facial expressions spoke high volumes.
Both teams went back-and-forth in overtime with defense being the main attraction, neither team allowing the other easy scoring opportunities. Trinity got its scoring with a two-pointer by senior forward Nick Deschamp and another two-pointer by senior Nathaniel Jilek. Mott-Regent found its scoring with its free throw game, hitting three free throws.
After an intense battle, and Trinity holding a 42-41 lead and the ball in Mott-Regent’s possession, the intensity was at a boiling point within the heated atmosphere.
The fans, not knowing whether to be silent or vocal, were hyped for the outcome.
The team attempted to get a good shot and with time winding down, the intensity rising, got the ball in the hands of senior Sam Huether. The senior forward stood collected with time ticking down and fired up a shot.
The ball soared through the sky and landed perfectly in the net with the buzzer going off just as the swish could be heard. The noise of the fans blasted off the walls and vibrated from the stomping of the fans.
For the players, the first thing they thought of was celebrating with Huether. For Zachmann, the head coach had other ideas.
“I guess the first thing that went through my mind is go and shake coach Grinsteinner’s hand,” he said. “That’s honestly the first thing that came to mind. I have so much respect for him as a person and respect for him and his program … just winning the right way, being respectful, not acting like we won a state championship.
“It's a big win for our program, it’s a big win for our team here this year and we’ll enjoy it but we got to reset and get back to practice on Wednesday and Thursday and play Beulah on Friday,” Zachmann added.
Grinsteinner expressed how he felt about the upset following the game.
“Mott-Regent played with a lot more energy than we did,” Grinsteinner said. “They made plays when they had to, it was a perfect storm. We struggled while shooting the ball, we struggled with defending and they took advantage of it.”
“It was a perfect storm, give them all the credit,” Grinsteinner added. “They deserved to win. They had a great game plan and their kids played with a lot of emotions, their crowd was really into it, it was one of those nights.”
For the Titans, Tuesday’s overtime game was the third time in four games that the team has played in extra minutes. But for a respected coach like Grinsteinner, that could not be labeled an excuse.
“We tried to get into our bench and stuff, we played a lot of games, but we can’t use that as an excuse. That’s going to happen,” he said. “Once you get into the postseason, you’re going to be playing a lot of games in a short amount of time and your kids are just going to have to respond.”
Despite the loss, Grinsteinner is looking forward to getting back to the basics with his team and take away from the learning experience.
“I’ve coached long enough to be on both sides of the coin, when we weren’t very good and we knocked off a top-ranked team and now we’re on the other side where we’re the top-ranked team and we got upset and those things happen and that’s why you play the game,” he said.
As for Mott-Regent, the Wildfire are excited about the win but are aware that there are more challenges to come, including with its upcoming game against Beulah.
“There’s a lot of basketball still to be played,” Zachmann said. “We got to take it one game at a time and hopefully it’s a momentum builder for us, but we could go to Beulah and totally lay an egg … we just have to really enjoy tonight and then get back to work tomorrow and Thursday.”
The Wildfire are now on a three-game winning streak and will battle Beulah on the road on Feb. 12. As for the Titans, the team is now 6-2 in regional play and will play Glen Ullin-Hebron at home on Feb. 15.
Trinity: 16 6 7 9 4 - 42
Mott-Regent: 6 8 19 5 5 - 43
Trinity: Jake Schobe 4, Nick Deschamp 2, Cole Fitterer 8, Aiden Haich 2, Tysen Praus 3, Nathaniel Jilek 10, Tanner Soehren 13.
Mott-Regent: Cole Manolovits 2, Adam Kautzman 10, Ryan Doe 11, Jordan Ottmar 3, Jesse Reich 2, Logan Lutz 5, Sam Huether 10.