For the third time in the last four years, North Dakota State College of Science claimed the Region XIII Championship with an 80-65 win over No. 1 seed and tournament host Bismarck State College.
BSC took two of the first three meetings during a regular season that saw NDSCS battle injuries and adversity. At one point the group last four of seven games and teetered to the middle of the pack in the Mon-Dak Standings.
To see his group persevere through that stretch to become region champions is something that couldn’t make sixth year head coach Tom Dryburgh any happier.
“This is a special group,” said Dryburgh. “They earned the right to be called champions throughout the season. They have a great belief in each other and have understood their own roles all year. What they are doing now is proving all the hard work is paying off.”
On Sunday, that belief in each other was on full display as five different Wildcats reached double figures and all 13 players saw game action.
On the court, a slow start from NDSCS was followed by a game-changing second quarter that BSC never recovered from.
The Mystics jumped out to a 22-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
NDSCS countered with a 30-13 second quarter advantage that saw them take a 41-35 halftime lead. The Cats carried that momentum into the third quarter, outscoring BSC 20-13. The lead would swell to as much as 18 points (70-52) in the fourth quarter.
Dryburgh has the luxury of starting four sophomores in Kate Carlson, Justyna Butler, Nikki Metcalfe and Emma Nielsen. Veteran leadership that proved to be imperative in a game of this magnitude.
“The ladies have huge heart, they regrouped and gathered themselves,” said Dryburgh. “After we knocked down a couple shots you could see it in their faces the confidence to make plays was there. That confidence comes from within, they decided they didn’t want to be done yet.”
For the second straight day freshman Zaraya March led the team in scoring with 15 points. She added six rebounds and five steals. March helped seal the semifinal win over Miles CC with 20 points and 16 rebounds.
Classmate Emily-Kate Parker finished with 14 points in just 13 minutes, knocking down four of her six attempts from deep.
Veteran point guard Butler had another steady game with 13 points, five assists and four rebounds. Carlson added 10 points and 13 rebounds, while frontcourt partner in crime Metcalfe also had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, as well as four blocks and three assists.
Six different players knocked down 3-point FGs, part of a season-best 11-for-24 effort from 3. Nine different Wildcats scored in all, as depth and balance continue to power a squad that has won 10 of its last 11 games.
“They are huge for our team,” said Dryburgh. “We have the balance to make teams think about how and who to guard because different ladies step up almost nightly. We can also use our depth to wear teams out, I think by the end today, we had accomplished that as well.”
Dryburgh has now led NDSCS to region championships in three of the last four seasons. Each of the two previous trips ended in national tournament appearances. The program has had just four national tournament trips in its history.
NDSCS now awaits the winner of District IV in the North Central District Championship. The Cats will host that game on Saturday, March 7th at 2p.m. with the winner will advance to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Lubbock, Texas.
The Wildcats are 80-11 at Ed Werre Arena under Dryburgh.