Last year, the West Fargo boys basketball team finished runner-up to Mandan in the state tournament.
This year, the Packers have a shot at redemption.
At the Eastern Dakota Conference tournament in Grand Forks on Saturday, the Packers were facing a titan in Fargo North. The teams had squared off twice during the regular season, with both games going to the East Region regular-season champion Spartans.
But the second-ranked Packers pulled it off, rallying from an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat North 61-59 and win the East Region title for the second time in three years. The win was an emphatic crescendo to West Fargo's season, and catapults the now No. 1-seeded Packers further into the postseason.
The Packers (16-6) head to this weekend's state tournament in Bismarck with a target on their back, but it just may be the motivation necessary to carry them through the tournament. They face West Region No. 4-seed Minot (11-11) at approximately 5 p.m. in the first round Thursday, March 11.
To start the East Region tournament, the Packers battled Grand Forks Central (1-20), a team they had met only once during the regular season, but had beaten by 14 points. While teams must never underestimate their opponents, West Fargo severely outmatched the bottom-ranked Knights, leading by 13 points at the half and finishing with a commanding 56-38 victory.
Even though Austin Nelson's 11 points helped pace the Packers, it was an otherwise unknown Grant Ringdahl who commanded the court. The 6-foot, 3 inch junior went 4-of-6 from the field and hit three tres to lead the Packers with 14 points.
Ringdahl again shone the following night against Grand Forks Red River (11-11), where he acquired a game-high 12 points while going 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Spencer Flaten was second with 11 points and three steals.
In the championship game, West Fargo's regular-season starters took over, but not until the second half. In the beginning, Fargo North controlled the play and racked up a lofty 35-24 halftime lead thanks to overall points leader Nik Savageau, who finished with 23 points.
But during the second half, the Packers got mean. They battled behind leaders Chase Farkas and Nelson, who made 15 points apiece, and outscored the Spartans 37-24. Toward the end, West Fargo made an 8-point run capped by a three-pointer and jumper from junior center Justin Schock. He finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while teammate Spencer Flaten put up 13 points.
Both Farkas and Flaten were honored with spots on the All-EDC team. North's Savageau wound up Senior Player of the Year.
Going into the state tournament, West Fargo players are ranked high in several statistical categories in the East Region. Schock is No. 2 in field goal percentage with 57.5, and third in blocks with 20 overall and a 1.1-per-game average. Farkas is No. 2 in free throw percentage at 80.8, No. 4 in 3-point percentage with 39.7, and eighth in assists with 60. Nelson is No. 6 in field goal percentage at 52.5, and No. 8 in offensive rebounding with a 2.6 average.
At the state tournament, West Fargo will need all of its players to step up like they did at the EDC tournament.
Another title is on the line.
Tyler Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer, and can be reached at 701-451-5717 or email@example.com.