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Dickinson beats Mandan to reach Class A state boys basketball tournament

BISMARCK -- Wyatt Kainz is a 30 percent free-throw shooter. On Saturday afternoon, with the Dickinson High boys basketball team's season and a trip to the Class A state tournament at stake, he made the two biggest free throws of his life. Kainz s...

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Dickinson High junior guard Aanen Moody, right, drives while Mandan senior guard Gabe Meschke defends him Saturday at the Bismarck Event Center in a West Region Tournament state-qualifying game. (Press Photo by Dustin Monke)

BISMARCK -- Wyatt Kainz is a 30 percent free-throw shooter.

On Saturday afternoon, with the Dickinson High boys basketball team’s season and a trip to the Class A state tournament at stake, he made the two biggest free throws of his life.

Kainz sank the game-tying free throw and watched the next one bounce high off the rim before falling through the hoop for the go-ahead score with 36.5 seconds remaining in a West Region Tournament state-qualifying game.

The senior forward’s shots set up the Midgets’ 56-53 victory over Mandan at the Bismarck Event Center.

“That was surreal,” said Kainz of his only two points in the game that put Dickinson ahead 54-53. “I’ve struggled with free throws all year. To make two out of two, that feeling is phenomenal. I can’t explain it right now.”

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Dickinson made a defensive stop on Mandan’s next possession as junior Aanen Moody came up with a steal with 14 seconds left and made two free throws after being fouled to send the Midgets to the state tournament for the first time since 2008.

The Midgets (16-8) will play East Region champion Fargo Davies (19-5) in the Class A state tournament quarterfinals at 4 p.m. MT Thursday at the Bismarck Event Center.

“That’s the most unbelievable feeling I’ve had since my kids have been born, I think. We’re going to state,” exclaimed Dickinson first-year head coach Dan Glasser in the locker room after the game. “We had a goal at the beginning of the year and we accomplished it. We did it together. All 15 of us. We all just wanted one thing.”

Moody, the state’s leading scorer who sprained his left ankle in Thursday’s quarterfinal game against Jamestown, had his best performance of the tournament to help get the Midgets there.

He scored a game-high 23 points and had six rebounds despite being pestered by the Braves much of the first half.

The 6-foot-3 junior guard scored 11 points in the first 5 minutes before Mandan began chasing him defensively with senior Gabe Meschke, who frustrated Moody away from the basketball and prevented him from getting open looks.

“I got hot quick and he realized that,” Moody said. “He’s a terrific 400 (meters) runner. He’s in a little bit better shape than I am. He was able to beat me to the spot a couple times and made me cough the ball up.”

Dickinson led much of the game, but never by more than six points. That came when Cam Jorda buried a 3-pointer from the right baseline with 45 seconds left in the first half to make it 28-22.

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Mandan responded with a bucket from Trae Steckler inside on the next trip down the floor to cut it to 28-24 at halftime.

Mandan scored the first six points of the second half to reclaim a 30-28 lead -- their first advantage since midway through the first half -- but relinquished it quickly as Moody fired back with a pair of jumpers, his first points since the 13-minute mark of the first half.

From there, Dickinson and Mandan went back and forth until the final minute.

“Both teams knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Mandan coach Brandon Schaefer said. “Unfortunately, we were just one possession short.”

Dickinson won all three meetings with Mandan this season, beating them 61-60 on the road and 93-84 in an overtime battle at home.

“We’re just so competitive with each other,” Moody said. “It’s almost like an unwritten rivalry between us. Every game comes down to the last shot.”

However, Mandan nearly toppled the Midgets psychologically in the second half, as fouls almost became Dickinson’s downfall.

Jordan Meidinger, Dickinson’s 7-foot junior center, and Kainz each picked up their fourth fouls within a minute of each other midway through the second half and the Midgets leading 42-40.

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Mandan, meanwhile, didn’t commit a second-half foul until there was 3:55 left in the game and senior forward Nick Miller was called for reaching.

The call elicited an overhead clap by a frustrated Glasser.

“We fought through it,” Glasser said. “They were in foul trouble and they made some dumb fouls, but people stepped up.”

With 2:42 left, the Midgets went to the line for the first time all game after Meidinger threw down a vicious two-handed dunk over Mandan’s Jake Carlson and drew a foul.

Meidinger sank the extra shot and put Dickinson ahead 50-49. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds.

After alternating baskets by Trae Steckler and Moody, Braves junior Camren Steckler gave Mandan a 53-52 lead with 1:03 remaining on a fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face from the right baseline.

Camren Steckler scored a team-high 17 points and had six rebounds. Trae Steckler had 15 points for the Braves, who end their season with a 10-14 record.

On the next possession, Kainz was fouled chasing down a rebound in the right corner. That sent him to the line for the go-ahead points.

Kainz, who admitted he didn’t have his best game of the season, said the way Dickinson fought its way to a win down the stretch spoke volumes about the team’s competitiveness.

“It definitely shows what kind of pride and heart this team has,” he said.

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