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No. 1 Hazen not safe against Region 7

When Class B's undefeated, top-ranked team doesn't feel at all safe in its own region, the tournament is bound to be exciting. Hazen brings its perfect 20-0 season record into the Region 7 girls basketball tournament to take on Cinderella fourth ...

Jordyn Bender
New England junior point guard Jordyn Bender

When Class B's undefeated, top-ranked team doesn't feel at all safe in its own region, the tournament is bound to be exciting.

Hazen brings its perfect 20-0 season record into the Region 7 girls basketball tournament to take on Cinderella fourth seed Heart River in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Monday at Knights of Columbus Activities Center.

At 7-14, the Cougars are a Cinderella team fans could fall in love with if they were to upset the Bison.

Despite winning just five regular-season games, Heart River staged a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Scranton in a District 13 tournament regional-qualifier game and extend its season.

"This is the time of the year you want to be playing your best ball and I think we are playing our best ball," Heart River first-year coach Andrew Jordan said.

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Junior forward Laura Steffan leads Heart River with 10 points per game. However, Jordan said sophomore center Shea Shypkoski has been averaging about 10 points and 9 rebounds per game in February.

The Cougars will need their best game if they want to get past Hazen, however.

Juniors Stef Bohrer and Allison Opp lead the way for the underclassmen-led and balanced Bison. Bohrer averages 16 points and nine rebounds a game while Allison Opp averages 13 points and seven rebounds.

Like District 13 champion Beach, the Bison do not start a senior.

Hazen coach Leland Opp said just getting to this point, with a District 14 title in hand and the chance to make the Class B state tournament, is exciting for the team.

"We're pretty excited to be in this situation that we're in," Opp said. "Obviously we anticipated a good season. I don't know if we really thought we would be undefeated at this point, but we're really excited to be where we're at."

New England (17-4) vs. Beulah (8-12)

New England coach Jason Jung knows his team needs its big three to be productive if it wants to avoid being upset in the first round at 4:30 p.m.

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After senior forward Amanda Olheiser got into early foul trouble in the District 13 championship game, Beach was able to disrupt Tigers junior guard Jordyn Bender and senior center Shari Hewson enough to build an edge it rode to a victory.

Jung said if that happens again, it could be difficult for the Tigers to make any noise in the tournament.

"We have to have the big three in," Jung said. "They pretty much play the entire game. They need to be in the entire game."

Leading the way for the all-district trio is Bender, who averages 18.5 points, six assists and four steals a game. Olheiser is averaging a double-double this season with 13.5 points and 11 rebounds a game. Hewson adds 12 points and seven boards.

Beulah coach Jim Petrik said slowing down those three could help his team, the third seed from District 14, hinder New England just enough to get past them.

The Miners lost to New England twice earlier in the season, first in the Roughrider Tournament, and then in a regular-season game two days later.

"We feel like we know a lot about our opponent," Petrik said. "We're looking forward to getting out there and fixing the mistakes from last time against them and hopefully coming out with a win."

Senior forward Karsen Little Soldier, a three-year starter and fourth-year letterwinner, is the engine that drives the Miners. She's averaging 16 points and eight rebounds a game and has been a big factor for the team since she was a sophomore and they lost to Bowman County in the 2007 regional championship game.

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"She's got that experience of playing in big games against big opponents," Petrik said. "Hopefully we can use that to our advantage."

Dickinson Trinity (16-5) vs. Bowman County (14-7)

The Titans and Bulldogs opened their respective seasons against each other at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center.

Ironically, one of their seasons will end at the same venue when the teams play at 6 p.m.

"It's a long time ago," Bowman County coach Kent Harding said of Trinity's 40-28 victory on Dec. 2. "Obviously they're a lot better than they were and we're a lot better than what we started with."

Both Harding and Dickinson Trinity coach Alysia Hugret expect a close game when the two senior-led teams meet.

The Titans have had a strong season, finishing second to Hazen in the District 14 tournament, yet have struggled at times.

Hugret said the team needs to rely on its ability to balance its offense if it hopes to stay alive and reach Thursday's region championship game.

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"I think that's going to be a key for us," Hugret said. "We've got our six seniors who have contributed greatly for us throughout the regular season."

Senior forwards Breanna Messer and Marinna Marsh lead the Titans in scoring with 13 and 12 points per game, respectively. Senior point guard Sheyenne Plummer does her best to feed her post players the ball. She was named District 14 senior athlete of the year after averaging nine points, six assists and five steals a game.

The Bulldogs have also fallen back on their seniors. District 13 senior athlete of the year Allison Hanson averaged 14 points per game this season and guard Megan Naico also chipped in close to 14 a game. Senior post Jenna Olson adds 10 points a game.

"We got all three girls scoring and contributing in different ways and it made us a much better team," Harding said.

Hugret said no matter which team wins, the road they will face is going to be rough.

"I think the region tournament, at this point, is one of the strongest region tournaments we've seen in a long time," Hugret said.

Beach (18-2) vs. Killdeer (12-9)

When Beach sophomore Abby Weinreis hit a 3-pointer just seconds into the District 13 championship game, Buccaneers coach Bob Waldal looked at his bench with amazement.

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"I just turned and, out loud, went 'Wow,' " Waldal said.

That one word sums up how the coach feels his team is playing as it heads into its region tournament quarterfinal game against Killdeer at 7:30 p.m.

"About the last three games, the kids have come out ready to play and played hard and got off to some good starts," Waldal said.

Despite being comprised mostly of underclassmen -- senior guard Teal Waldal is the teams first player off the bench -- Beach has brought a senior mentality into the postseason.

Waldal said much of that is due to offseason work, which the coach believes has helped the Buccaneers get to this point.

"I don't look at them as underclassmen," Waldal said. "I don't like that as an excuse if we don't play well. I think the kids, they've prepared themselves."

Leading the way for the balanced Buccaneers is sophomore forward Brittney Dietz, who averages 17 points and six rebounds a game.

Abby Weinreis chips in 13 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals a game. Emily Hardy averages eight points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Jill Rising gets eight points, five rebounds and three assists and Kayla Dolyniuk adds nine points a game.

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While Beach is playing good right now, many coaches say no team in the tournament is scarier than Killdeer, the fourth seed from District 14.

A tall team, the Cowboys gave District 14 champion Hazen a scare in the semifinals before falling and have gotten good performances from some of its key players late in the season.

"Dani Sadowsky is playing as well as anybody in the region right now," Killdeer coach Randy Binstock said. "She's been on a tear scoring."

Sadowsky, a junior forward, is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game for the season. But, she put up 16 per game in the district tournament while players around her also stepped up.

Binstock said Killdeer needs another total team effort if it hopes to knock Beach out of the tournament.

"We're not a squad over the year that just rolled over and died for teams," Binstock said. "... We can play against some of the best teams in the state. But you can't do it for a half, you have to do it for both halves."

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