If it was March instead of December and the venue was the Bismarck Civic Center in lieu of the Spartandome, spectators easily could have mistaken last Tuesday night's double-feature to be part of the North Dakota state basketball tournament.
Instead, it was regular season back-to-back games between Fargo North and West Fargo girls and boys teams.
The grandstands were packed with raucous fans, so much so that additional bleachers were brought in to handle the overflow. As the clock wound down to each game, cheers rose exponentially and the ground shuddered from stomping feet.
The fan support and fierce competition was a sight to behold - and the season isn't yet half over.
The girls basketball game was close - much closer than some may have thought beforehand - but the game everyone anticipated was the matchup between two unbeatens: the Spartan and Packers boys basketball teams.
Though Fargo North swept West Fargo - the girls won 69-60 and the boys won 63-61 - at no time were the Packers down and out.
In the girls game, West Fargo (0-3 EDC, 1-3 overall) clawed back from a 15-point deficit to end the first half only one point down. But the Spartans (1-1, 3-2) pulled away in the second, outscoring the Packers 36-28, thanks to an offensive spark from Alyssa Dehne and Tana Teschendorf. Teschendorf tallied a game-high 22 points and added eight rebounds while Dehne contributed 21 points.
Trailing 58-65 during the final minutes, the Packers worked to get Hayley Miller the ball, who tried shooting 3-pointers, but missed her last four attempts. West Fargo finally got two points on the board when Jenna Green nailed a jumper from the free throw line after getting a feed from Katelyn Holland.
"They never quit. They worked hard," said Barb Metcalf, West Fargo girls basketball coach.
Courtney Voeller led the Packers with 21 points and nine rebounds. Green was 7-for-11 from the field and racked up 14 points and nine rebounds. "I'm really happy after seeing Voeller and Green step up," Metcalf said.
Part of Fargo North's success was from containing Holland. West Fargo's season points leader - who currently is ranked No. 2 in the EDC with an average of 21.3 points per game - was held to only four points and went 1-for-14 in field goal attempts.
But Holland's slip against the Spartans isn't to blame for West Fargo's struggles.
"Turnovers are keeping us from being a better team," Metcalf said. "That's a sign of a bit of inexperience."
Metcalf also pointed to a need for better free throw shots. The Packers also are attempting to develop roles on the team, she said. Part of that is growing a point guard so that Holland can be more of a shooting guard.
"It's been a work in progress and there's nothing wrong with that," Metcalf said of her team's season thus far. "I'm not making excuses; we still put five out just like the other team. ...
"But I'd be a little less optimistic if we weren't so competitive."
The Packers played Bismarck Century and Bismarck earlier this week, but neither game was complete when this edition of the Pioneer went to press. West Fargo hits their home court again Thursday, Jan. 7, at 7:45 p.m. against Fargo Shanley.
Last-second jumper seals win for Fargo North boys
In the boys basketball game, West Fargo followed a characteristic blueprint they've unwillingly adhered to all season: stumble during the first half and rally in the second.
This time, though, the Cinderella story disintegrated when the Spartans' Nick Schulz nailed a putback with two seconds remaining to put Fargo North (2-0, 3-0) on top for good.
The game clock actually wound down to zero and the fans began filtering out before the referees put two seconds back on the clock, giving West Fargo (2-1, 3-1) one final chance.
Chase Farkas got the inbounds pass and took a lob from half court, but the shot was just wide and bounced harmlessly off the glass.
Austin Nelson led the Packers with 17 points and eight rebounds while Farkas added 15 points.
West Fargo was down 29-21 by the end of the first half and made up a ton of ground, culminating when Brady Schwartz hit a lay-up to tie the Spartans 61-61 in the final seconds. Down nearly the entire game, it was the first time the Packers were tied with the Spartans since early in the first half when the score was 6-6.
This rally was due to the Packers as a whole stepping up and contributing. Six-foot-eight junior Justin Schock tallied eight points in the second half and made a key block with less than a minute remaining that led directly to Schwartz's tying shot.
Spencer Flaten charged into a tight Spartan defense on several occasions, putting up shots and forcing fouls. When Farkas missed a 3-pointer that would have put the Packers within two points late in the second half, 5-foot-10 Flaten leaped and grabbed the rebound away from the taller Spartans circling beneath the hoop. He then passed it back to Farkas, who steadied his gaze, squared his feet and swished the trey.
In the end, though, West Fargo's efforts weren't enough to surpass those of Fargo North. Though Schulz hit the game-winning shot, he only tallied four points and seven rebounds. The real Spartan star was Nik Savageau, who racked up a game-high 23 points, which included three straight 3-pointers to start the second half that put North ahead 42-27.
The Packers faced Bismarck Century on Monday and Mandan on Tuesday but neither game was complete when this edition of the Pioneer went to press. West Fargo's next matchup is Thursday, Jan. 7, at 6:15 p.m. when Fargo Shanley pays a visit.